05/02/2007, 00.00
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Hindu fundamentalists want to burn book they claim defames Maratha history

by Shahaji Adilshah
Mumbai’s main Hindu groups attack a book by an American writer who writes about an epic historical figure from India’s 17th century. Despite a High Court decision lifting a ban on the book, extremists have the order to burn every copy. Bookstores are threatened.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Some of Mumbai’s main Hindu groups have launched a campaign against an American writer and a book he wrote about a heroic Maratha figure, Shivaji, this despite a decision by the Bombay High Court to lift a ban against the book. For the extremists there is but one order: burn the book.

Titled Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, the book looks at the greater-than-life figure who, according to popular lore, was able to restore Hindu hegemony against the overwhelming place taken by Muslims in the country. For many Hindu fundamentalists he is a hero and a ‘founding father’ figure.

The book, which was published in 2003, was banned in India. However, the High Court in Mumbai lifted the ban on April 26 of this year. Shiv Sainiks, members of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party, received clear instructions from their chief Bal Thackeray not to allow any copy to reach bookshops.

“Balasaheb Thackeray has ordered us to burn all copies of James Laine’s book. He has asked us to make holi (bonfire) of this book and burn it to ashes,” said Sena spokesperson Sanjay Raut Shiv. For him Mr Laine was not the right person to comment on Shivaji.

“The court ruling highlights the fact that the state had failed in its duty,” he said.

James Laine, professor of religious studies at Macalester College in Minnesota, in the United States, said he wasn’t surprised with the Shiv Sena’s reaction. “I don’t think political instincts have changed. [. . .] I won’t be able to come to India now,” a disappointed Laine said.

Still, he defended his work, saying that the critics had not read his book.

“Unfortunately, the book has not been read carefully by those wishing to ban it,” said Laine. “I had no intention of getting into this controversy. In fact, I have been a critic of the Brahmin bias.”

In his book Laine contends that Shivaji was less interested in liberating Hindus than in building his own empire, less religiously-inclined than thought and willing to strike deals with the Muslim ‘invaders’.

Since Bal Thackeray’s announcement, book sellers have become apprehensive about stocking copies of the book.

According to sources, the Bharatiya Vidhyarthi Sena has warned bookshop owners not to keep copies of the book or face action.

“The book has many defaming statements against Shivaji. Even though the court has lifted the ban we won’t be selling it, especially after we heard that Shiv Sena has taken an aggressive stance on the issue,” said one bookstore owner.

Some Hindu fundamentalists have begun picketing one of Mumbai’s major bookstores, whilst members of the Sambhaji Brigade (named after Shivaji’s son Sambhaji) blackened the doors of the local Oxford University Press showroom and burnt an effigy of the American author.

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