IMAGE: A portrait of Leo Tolstoy by Ilya Repin. Photograph: Wikimedia Commons
The Bombay high court on Thursday made it clear that it was not referring to Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace but a book titled War and Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists by Biswajit Roy during a bail hearing in the Koregaon Bhima case on Wednesday.
It knew that Tolstoy’s book was a literary classic, it added.
On Wednesday, Justice Sarang Kotwal had asked Vernon Gonsalves, an activist accused of naxal links, to explain why he kept ‘objectionable material’ like a copy of War and Peace at his home.
But counsel of a co-accused told the court on Thursday that the book the court referred to was in fact a collection of essays edited by Biswajit Roy, titled War and Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists.
According to its publishers, it is a ‘collection of essays by well-known activists and academics including mediators and examines the failed peace initiatives in context of the governments’ elitist developmental policies, doublespeak of parliamentary parties and Maoists’ follies’.
The judge’s remarks had stirred up thousands of reactions on Twitter. The hashtag #WarAndPeace was trending on the social media platform during the day.
The court’s clarification on Thursday came after the counsel for Gonsalves informed it that none of the books seized from the activist’s residence last year were banned by the government in accordance with Code of Criminal Procedure provisions.
Justice Kotwal said, “I knew that Tolstoy’s War and Peace was a literary classic. I was reading the whole list from the panchnama attached to the charge sheet. Basically the handwriting was so poor it was hardly legible. There were so many references to war….I know War and Peace. And there I was making a query (on why Gonsalves had copies of these books) but did not want to suggest that everything (seized) was incriminating.”
The counsel for co-accused Sudha Bharadwaj, Yug Chaudhary, said that on Wednesday the court was referring to the book by Roy (and not the one by Tolstoy).
The judge then said, “There were so many references to war and other titles. Before I went to ‘War and Peace‘, I made a reference to Rajya Daman (another book) too. Can a judge not ask any questions in court?”
Gonsalves told the court that he owned 2,000 books and none of these books — including the ones seized from his home by the Pune police — was banned.
Gonsalves’ counsel Mihir Desai informed the court that police were in possession of these allegedly incriminating books for a year now but had done nothing about it.
“These books that the police call incriminating are not banned under section 95 of the Criminal Procedure Code. In fact, they are all available on (online retailer) Amazon. It is possible that the government did not know about these books until they seized them from me (Gonsalves),” Desai said.
“So, having these books will not show that I am in anyway associated with any banned organisation,” he said.
The court said Desai had ‘made his point’ on the seizure of these books and CDs by arguing that they were not banned material.
The arguments are likely to continue on Friday.
On Wednesday, the court had asked, “War and Peace is about war in another country. Why were you keeping these books at your house?”
The judge had also referred to a CD titled Rajya Daman Virodhi and said the title ‘clearly suggested’ it is material against the state.
“Why were you keeping this in your house,” he had asked Gonsalves.
According to Pune Police, who are probing the case, the books and CDS were part of ‘highly incriminating evidence’ seized from Gonsalves’ house in Mumbai last year.
“The title of the CD ‘Rajya Daman Virodhi‘ itself suggests it has something against the state while ‘War and Peace‘ is about a war in another country. Why did you
(Gonsalves) keep objectionable material such as books like ‘War and Peace‘, books and CDs at home? You will have to explain this to the court,” Justice Kotwal had said.
Gonsalves was arrested by the Pune police under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act after raids at residences and offices of several activists in connection with the Elgar Parishad case.
The police had claimed provocative speeches made at the Parishad on December 31, 2017 were responsible for the caste violence around Koregaon Bhima village in Pune district the next day during an event to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Koregaon Bhima.
One person was killed and others were injured in the violence.
Dalits celebrate the anniversary of the Koregaon Bhima battle every year as they believe that the Army of the British comprising ‘Mahars’ or scheduled caste soldiers had defeated the forces of the Brahmin Peshwas.
Police are probing alleged Naxal links in organising the Parishad, which was held at historic Shaniwarwada in Pune.
Other arrested accused in the case include activists and academics Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson, Sudha Bharadwaj, Arun Ferreira, and Gautam Navlakha.
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