The Delhi Police on Thursday raided the offices of Forward Press, an anti-caste magazine, and confiscated copies of its October issue on grounds that it carried objectionable material about Goddess Durga.
The magazine’s consulting editor, Promod Ranjan, said that the police had illegally detained four staffers of the magazine and had confiscated copies of the magazine from stalls around Delhi “without any order of any court or competent authority”.
“Fifteen cops from the Vasant Kunj Police Station (North) raided our office at 8.30 am on Thursday,” Ranjan told Scroll.in. “They ransacked the place, confiscated every single copy of the October 2014 issue present in the office and also detained employees when they entered the premises.”
The action was taken on the basis of a complaint filed by two students of Jawaharlal Nehru University, Ravindra Singh Basera and Avishankar Vajpayee. They claimed that an article in the issue and the accompanying pictures had portrayed Durga in a bad light.
Editors in hiding
The Vasant Kunj police station refused to comment on the record and the Deputy Commissioner of Police (South), Prem Nath, could not be reach for a comment. Though the police released the four Forward Press employees 11.30 pm on Thursday, they are still on the hunt for Rajan and the editor-in-chief of the magazine, Ivan Kostka. Both of them have gone into hiding.
But an official at the Vasant Kunj police station (north) said that on condition of anonymity that the station had received a telephone call from the Ministry of Home Affairs on Wednesday night asking it to take action against the magazine. Following this, the Deputy Commissioner of Police visited the station and called in Basera and Vajpayee to review their complaint.
The complainants claimed that the article and the pictures portraying Durga killing the asura Mahishasura in a treacherous manner. They claimed that the article had influenced some students at JNU to make plans to celebrate Mahishasura Martyrdom Day, which they said was distasteful and offensive to Hindus. On Thursday, members of the Bharatiya Janata Party’s student wing, the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad, came to blows with students owing allegiance to the All India Backward Students’ Forum on the JNU campus over the issue, reported The Hindu.
The paintings that the students claimed were offensive have been done by Lal Ratnakar, an associate professor and head of the department of drawing and painting at Mahanand Mission Harijan College in Ghaziabad. The art depicts the Bahujan version of the tale of Durga and Mahishasura, the king of the asuras, who some Dalits claim as ancestors.
Ranjan said that the magazine did not have any material that could be considered objectionable under the Indian constitution.
“Our objective was not to humiliate or hurt the sentiments of any community or group,” he said. “We are only trying to identify and rejuvenate the symbols of Bahujan culture and civilisation. Anyway, Bahujan renditions of popular texts have a long tradition, starting from Jotiba Phule and going up to Ambedkar and Periyar. The Bahujan rendition of the story of Mahishasur and Durga has been presented in words and through sketches and paintings which in no way breaks any law or hurts Hindu sentiments.”
The magazine issued a press release condemning the police action as an attack on freedom of expression. “We want to state that the action has been taken at the behest of the Brahamanical forces in the BJP,” the press note said. “Forward Press – a magazine of Dalits, OBCs and Tribals – has always been an eyesore for these forces. In the last couple of years, Forward Press has faced many attacks from these forces. The attacks have only strengthened our moral force. We are hopeful that we will be able to emerge with our head held high from this latest crisis too.”