Bombay High Court’s question to activist Vernon Gonsalves about why he owned ‘objectionable material’ like 'War and Peace' has drawn jokes on social media.

After Bombay HCs War and Peace remark time to check your anti-national bookshelvesWikimedia Commons/A.Savin
news Social Thursday, August 29, 2019 - 14:42

Citizens of India, beware. The books at your homes are not innocent, they are evil weapons that may influence you to become an anti-national or can be considered 'highly objectionable content'. Well, this is what happened with activist Vernon Gonsalves, who has been questioned for owning the book 'War and Peace,' which is apparently out of place since it "talks about a war that has happened in another country". JK Rowling did not see this coming too, did she?

“If ‘War and Peace’ is about war in another country, why do you have it in your home?” – Bombay High Court’s question to activist Vernon Gonsalves as to why he owned ‘objectionable material’ like Leo Tolstoy’s book has become the source of jokes and criticism on social media. 

A single-judge bench of Justice Sarang Kotwal was hearing the bail plea of Gonsalves and other activists in connection with the Bhima Koregaon case. The Pune police had placed Gonsalves’ copy of the book before the court as ‘incriminating evidence’ that they had seized during raids on the activist’s residence last year.

After initial reports stated that the bench referred to Leo Tolstoy's epic 'War and Peace,' the Bombay High Court on Thursday clarified that the bench had talked about the book 'War and Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists' written by Biswajit Roy and not Leo Tolstoy's book. "I was reading the list of all books and CDs seized, and even then, I didn't mean that all material was incriminating," Justice Kotwal reportedly said on Thursday.

The police also read out in court the titles of several other books and CDs that were allegedly taken from his residence, like the book ‘The Marxist Archives’ and the CD ‘Rajya Daman Virodhi,’ released by the Kabir Kala Manch.

“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 keep objectionable material such as books like War and Peace… at home? You will have to explain this to the court,” Justice Sarang Kotwal said.

The judge’s observation has been criticised by social media users who wondered if it was safe to keep any books at all at their homes and whether other notable personalities who also read Leo Tolstoy’s book will also have to explain why they did so.

Vernon Gonsalves was one of the activists who were arrested in connection with the Koregaon-Bhima riots in Maharashtra. In connection with the case, Pune police had arrested other human rights activists like Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut, Shoma Sen, Rona Wilson and Sudhir Dhawale and had raided the residences of Harshali Potdar, Jyoti Jagtap, Ramesh Gaychor and Sagar Gorke.

After the arrests, the residences of the activists were raided and the police had said they seized items like computers, laptops, CDs, pen-drives, 'incriminating documents,' and books from them and had contended that they functioned like an 'urban think tank' for Maoists. 

The Pune Police had swooped on over half a dozen Dalit activists and those involved with the Kabir Kala Manch, which organised an Elgar Conference in Pune on December 31, 2017. The next day, on January 1, 2018, caste riots erupted in Koregaon-Bhima which left one person dead, culminating in a Maharashtra shutdown on January 3 called by the Bharipa Bahujan Mahasangh of Prakash Ambedkar.

(Note: This article was updated to add Bombay High Court's clarification.)

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