By Anantha Padmanabhan
We are celebrating 70 years of freedom. We are the world’s youngest and largest democracy, and celebrate our ability to host free and fair elections and exercise choice. We celebrate, almost, our economic disparity. We most definitely celebrate our ideological differences. We love the arts. We love that we are called ‘incredible’. We love that we are the future of the consumer economy. We are socialists on our sleeves and capitalists in our hearts. We have a thriving fourth estate, arguably the largest and most successful in the world. We print acres of newsprint every morning, carrying some news, a few ideas, and mostly advertisements into many million homes, and digitally into devices. We celebrate the fact that we are cerebral and intellectual, and actually enjoy, to the point of being sadistic, our ability to engage in arguments. We love debate. We go blue in our faces, and are often shrill when we engage in debate. We love our languages. We have written a great many books. Obsessed as we are, we publish many dozens every year about ourselves. We adore English. We have won three Man Booker prizes and innumerable others. We host the largest, and the most number of literary festivals, across languages, in any one region of the globe. We have some of the finest literary minds in the world. We host some of the world’s most provocative public intellectuals. We have minds that have shaped the course of modern history. We have one of the largest and fastest growing education businesses in the world.
And yet: we love to abuse intellectual property and copyright. We love to argue over interpretations of history. We have a political sentiment and love the word ‘sedition.’ We have a religious sentiment that can very easily be offended. We love the word ‘defamation.’ We love the fact that defamation can be called criminal. We are in love with the idea of ‘free speech’. We love books. We also ban books.
Indian laws allow room to define defamation as a criminal offense. Books–even sentences and paragraphs–could be viewed as offending religious sentiments and banned. Publishers can be arrested, even for fictional work. Each year, publishers in India spend valuable time, money, and resources on legal reads, to ensure books are ‘publishable’. In a recent judgement, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of photocopying educational content for free distribution in classrooms. Indian publishers lose many millions in revenue to photocopying and piracy.
There is immense pleasure in publishing. There often is a purpose. It’s about time we came together to defend that purpose.