A Bombay High Court observation is being ridiculed on social media, after a single-judge bench questioned rights' activist Vernon Gonsalves motive behind keeping (and reading) Leo Tolstoy's classic novel, War and Peace. Calling the critically acclaimed novel "objectionable material", which is about Russia during Napoleonic wars, the single-judge-bench of Justice Sarang Kotwal, hearing the bail plea of Gonsalves and others also said that "such books" and CDs prima facie indicated they contained "some material against the State".
The books and CDs the high court referred to included copies of Marxist Archives, a CD titled 'Rajya Daman Virodhi' released by Kabir Kala Manch, and 'Jai Bhima Comrade' among others.
"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," said Justice Kotwal. The Pune Police probing the case claimed that the book was part of the "highly incriminating evidence" it had seized from Gonsalves' house in Mumbai during raids conducted a year ago.
Meanwhile, people took to Twitter to comment on the bizarre question, some even suggesting if being well-read had now become a crime in India.
NOW, being well read is a CRIME! 👀*Face palm*
" Whistle.Blower.007 (@LilUprising) August 28, 2019
Lawyer Gautam Bhatia announced a mock distress sale of books to point out the irony of the situation.
Er, does anyone want to buy some books from me at a heavily discounted price? Consider it a distress sale. https://t.co/rmM2e3txPi
" Gautam Bhatia (@gautambhatia88) August 28, 2019
One user pointed out how a book, which is part of varsity curriculums across world can be termed incriminating material.
War and Peace is taught in colleges and the court is asking why does one have the book in their house. #Slowclap
" Sunanda (@sunson_86) August 28, 2019
I wonder why the judge didn't ask why the man had a book about peace "in another country at your home?"
" Manu Joseph (@manujosephsan) August 29, 2019
I'm glad this ridiculous story has helped us focus on how all these individuals and activists are still in jail! And how flimsy the charges are- Bombay HC judge: War and Peace about another country, so why keep it? #BhimaKoregaon https://t.co/B7WG8JxAaf via @IndianExpress
" Gargi Rawat (@GargiRawat) August 29, 2019
An activist read 'War and Peace'. Honorable Judge said: "Why would you keep a book about a war in another country at your home?"
If Dostoevsky were alive, he would have written 'The Idiot' all over again keeping the silly judge in mind.. https://t.co/yIozxc9YPG
" Chirpy Says (@IndianPrism) August 29, 2019
The judge must be Shakha educated.
" Floccinaucinihilipilification (@IncorrSam) August 28, 2019
Journalist Salil Tripathi took a pun-tended stand to comment on the bizarreness of the situation.
The judge should leave his Pride and Prejudice aside, and try using his Sense and Sensibility: 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 become the time for Laughter and Forgetting. https://t.co/LUkvxpez5P
" Salil Tripathi Ø³ÙÛÙ ØªØ±ÛÙ¾Ø§Ù¹Ú¾Û ª¸ª²ª¿ª² ª¤«ª°ª¿ªªª¾ª « (@saliltripathi) August 29, 2019
While some Twitter users relied on pure wit and humour to walk the fine line of commenting on a statement and criticising the judiciary.
I have a question:
Does this mean that no Jain is allowed to keep any of the 'Chicken Soup for the Soul' books at home?
(The bigger question of how we have reached this stage where an actual judge can ask the War and Peace question, I shall not ask.)
" Doctor Roshan R (@pythoroshan) August 29, 2019
@ayeshaarvind Court should have actually enquired why name of #Tolstoy is missing from FIR. Why he has not been chargesheeted yet. https://t.co/7Da5F3aE3R " Probal Chatterjee (@probal_chat) August 28, 2019
Does this logic apply to Harry Potter books too?
It's about a war in a magical universe.
Asking for a friend.
" meghnad (@Memeghnad) August 28, 2019
However, during the hearing, judge did acknowledge the defence' charge that a book cannot be judged by its cover, and the police must come up with a stronger against Gonsalves. The judge also said the Pune police too have to do "much explaining" to convince the court that the material found on such CDs and in the books is incriminatory against Gonsalves.
"So far, the police have failed to provide details of what was on the CDs or in the books and pamphlets recovered that linked Gonsalves to the case. Merely stating that they have objectionable titles is not enough. Have you tested these CDs? What if they turn out to be blank inside?" the judge asked. "If you (prosecution) do not place on record the content and details of such material, the court will have to ignore them," said Justice Kotwal.