RAN: Rohinton Mistry Petition


October 28, 2010

INDIA: Indian-Canadian Novel Banned

PEN Center USA and the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN strongly condemn the censorship of Rohinton Mistry's novel Such a Long Journey from the English literature syllabus at the University of Mumbai.

Vice-Chancellor Rajan Welukar’s decision to remove the novel from the second year reading list of the Bachelor of Arts program, under an emergency provision, without holding a review with members of the Department of Language, Linguistics and Literature, or with members of the Faculty of Arts, raises troubling questions. It is a further cause for concern that the ban was apparently rushed through to appease members of the Shiv Sena party, following a book-burning protest organized by Aditya Thackeray, the new leader of Yuva Sena, the party’s youth wing.

Published twenty years ago, Such a Long Journey has a distinguished history. It received the 1991 Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction in Canada, the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best Book, the W.H. Smith / Books in Canada First Novel Award and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It was first placed on the English Literature syllabus at the University of Mumbai four years ago. Until Mr. Thackeray criticized the novel’s “foul language against many things that we, in Mumbai, hold close to our hearts” most reviewers had emphasized the book’s “loving humour” towards the citizens of Mumbai, and its “sharp affectionate sketches of Indian family life.”

Case Background

On October 19, 2010, the award-winning novel by Indian-born Canadian author Rohinton Mistry, Such a Long Journey was cut from Mumbai University’s reading list after complaints from an extremist group, nationalist Shiv Sena, which has a reputation for using violence to intimidate opponents.

According to news reports, the leader of the mob who burned the book told a television camera that “The author, Mistry, is lucky he lives in Canada – if he were here, we would burn him as well.” 

The Guardian newspaper gives the following background:
The banned book is set in India in the 1970s. Published in 1991 and shortlisted for the Booker prize, it describes the life and loves of a bank clerk from Mumbai’s Parsee community against a background of political unrest. The Shiv Sena are described in broadly negative terms.

Mohan Rawale, a Shiv Sena official, said the book was full of “very bad, very insulting words”, especially about Bal Thackeray, 83, the group’s founder and leader.

“It is our culture that anything with insulting language should be deleted. Writers can’t just write anything. They can’t write wrong things,” said Rawale, who admitted not having read the book.

The campaign to ban Such a Long Journey was launched by Aditya Thackeray, the leader’s grandson and son of the current executive president of Shiv Sena, who is head of the group’s youth wing. Analysts say the group is using the issue to launch Aditya Thackeray’s political career.

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Board of the University
University of Mumbai
M.G. Road
Fort Mumbai-400 032

Dear Sirs and Madams:

As an organization that endeavors to create a world in which freedom of expression is guaranteed for all writers, and where friendship and intellectual cooperation thrive among writers and readers worldwide, PEN USA strongly condemns the censorship of Rohinton Mistry’s novel Such a Long Journey from the English literature syllabus at the University of Mumbai.

Book-burnings should have no place in a modern democracy, neither should peremptory censorship of the sort that has been used to remove Such a Long Journey from the English syllabus at the University of Mumbai.

We, the undersigned, urge the board of the University to revisit Vice Chancellor Welukar’s decision, to reinstate the novel as a part of the required reading for second year Literature students, until a full academic review of its merits and supposed shortcomings has been completed, and to reaffirm the University of Mumbai’s commitment to academic freedom and its resistance to censorship and political pressure.


The Undersigned

We also welcome all individual appeals to be sent directly to the university offices, as well as your local diplomatic representative.

The period for signing this petition is now over.