People’s March returns, sellers wary

KOLKATA, 22 NOV: People’s March, a magazine previously branded a Maoist mouthpiece has resumed publication; booksellers, however, are now scared to keep it on their stalls.
The publication. which contains articles on peoples’ protests all over the country, was branded Maoist propaganda after it published some pieces about India’s Maoist movement.
The Special Branch of the Kolkata Police picked up Swapan Dasgupta, editor of the Bengali version of People’s March and Mr Sadananda Singha, its publisher, from their houses in Garia on 7 October 2009. They were charged under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) for publishing “a banned periodical” that allegedly contained “seditious matter”.
Swapan Dasgupta died in February 2010 and Mr Singha is now out on bail. After a several month hiatus, the magazines has resumed publication with Ms Kalpana Mukherjee as editor.
Booksellers who used to hang the Rs 20 magazine in their stalls are now wary to carry any copies. Currently, the only place where People’s March is available is in New Horizon Book Trust in College Street.
“I was the publisher of the registered magazine. How can a registered magazine be forced to stop publication?,” said Mr Singha. “I still do not understand what was wrong with it.”
The Ernakulam district collector had banned the English edition of People’s March on 15 January 2008 on the grounds that it indulged in “publishing seditious matters, exhorting the general public to take up arms for violent struggle.”
The Press and Registration Appellate Board (PRAB) in New Delhi quashed the district collector’s order, though, on 7 August 2009. The Board, which includes chairman Justice Mr KN Ray and Mr Ramesh Gupta, said that according to Section 8(b) of the Press and Registration of Books Act, no publication could be banned on these grounds. The ruling stated that, “Seditious offences may be taken cognizance of under the IPC or other relevant laws.” Swapan Dasgupta and Mr Sadananda Singha were arrested months after the ban was lifted.
“People have been scared to sell or buy the magazine since Swapan Dasgupta died. It is a repressive way to silence voices against the government and a direct attack on the freedom of speech and expression,” said Ms Deblina Chakraborty, general secretary of the Matangini Mahila Samiti.
According to the Supreme Court, the mere possession of materials eulogising Maoist ideologies can not be considered sedition. A professor of History at Jadavpur University, Mr Amit Bhattacharya, said: “I am working on a UGC project on Maoist movement in the country. I have to read all sort of books and literature. Does that make me guilty of sedition?”

Soma Basu

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