Recently, Bloomsbury India, the Indian unit of Bloomsbury UK, has decided to publish a book on northeast Delhi’s anti-Muslim communal violence titled “Delhi Riots 2020: Untold Story” written by three authors – Monika Arora, Prerna Malhotra and Sonali Chitalkar. The authors are ideologically affiliated with Sangh groups. This has drawn a lot of outrage on social media after the poster of the Book lunch event came into public. A large number of concerned citizens heavily criticized the internationally reputed publications house for publishing such book which peddles propaganda, hate and lies. Prominent authors, who have agreements with the publications, threatened to end their agreements with it.
One of the prime reasons for facing massive criticism was the guest of honors who were launching the book at the event. The guest of honors were Vivek Agnihotri, a filmmaker who often spread fake news and hatred on social media, Nupur Sharma, editor of Hindutva news website, and Kapil Mishra, who is being called the mastermind of Delhi’s anti-Muslim communal violence. The Delhi violence has broken out soon after the provocative speeches delivered by Mishra in front of the mob in the violence affected region. Many local residents and eyewitnesses have filed the police complaints with the northeast Delhi’s police about the involvement of Mishra and his henchmen in instigating and taking part in violence. Yet, he has been invited as a guest of hounor at the book launch event on Delhi riots. This has caused massive fury and anger among the concerned citizens. How can a rioter launch a book on riots? The only reason can be that the book was aimed at whitewashing the role of culprits and blamed the victims for the violence. This was not only insult to the injuries of the victims who have lost their lives and properties but also mockery of justice.
After a massive criticism and outrage, the publication decided to withdraw the book by citing their responsibility towards the society. The withdrawal of the book has been welcomed by many as good success against the propaganda, lies and hate speeches. However, some section of liberal people started opposing the Bloomsbury’s decision to withdraw the book and slammed those who criticized the publication under the garb of freedom of expression. They started defending the propoganda and hate-filled book which was full of lies in the name of freedom of expression.
The book was based on a fact-finding report submitted to Union Home minister Amit Shah. Fact-checking website Altnews.in has revealed that that fact finding report was full of misinformation, disinformation and false information. One of the authors of the book was convener of the fact-finding team. The Pandora of misinformation and disinformation has fully come out after the book was released. One piece of misinformation in the book is also about the SIO with the book claiming that the SIO was founded after the government imposed ban on the SIMI. The fact is the SIO was founded in 1982 and the SIMI was banned in 2001. These pieces of misinformation, disinformation and false information has been exposed by the fact-checkers and the reviewers.
Now, this book, which spreads false information, hatred and propaganda aiming at whitewashing the role of culprits and putting blame on the victims, is being defended by some people in the name of freedom of expression. What these people is not able to understand that freedom of expression is not freedom to lie and spread hatred. Freedom of expression is a fundamental right but freedom to lie cannot be fundamental right of anyone. Lying is not right but it is anti-social behavior which causes destruction on the individuals and in the society. In similar way, spreading communal hatred and propaganda cannot be right of anyone. It is anti-social behavior. This is one of the very reasons for which the constitution grants the right of freedom of expression with certain restrictions.
The second thing is that here, there is no issue of freedom of expression because no one is forcefully imposing ban on the book. Here, people expressed their outrage and disgust over the decision of a reputed publication to publish such horrible book. They have questioned the standard and the editorial judgment of the publication and shamed it for publishing such book. Then, the publication realized its mistake and withdrew it. This all happened out of choice. The publication could go ahead with the book but it chose to withdraw it. So, what is the question of freedom of expression?
The third thing is the naked display of the privilege by those who are talking about the freedom of expression. These people are completely oblivious to the fact that how such misinformation and false information makes deep impact on the ground and plays its role in radicalizing people and curtailing the right of marginalized sections. They become the reason of unleashing violence against the people. We have seen how the false information about the spread of Covid-19 in India in relation to the Tablighi Jamaat unleashed vicious cycle of violence and discrimination against the Muslims.
Let’s take example from the book itself. The way, the book has tried to associate SIO with SIMI can be cited as reason to ban the SIO too like the SIMI. SIO has never involved in any illegal activities in the country. The book tried to paint in such a way which may cause trouble for a student organization which has been working for the betterment of the society for long. Then, how can such blatant misinformation can be justified in the name of freedom of expression? It is not only abuse of the freedom of expression but also causing harm people in the name of such sacred right.