A progressive bookstore, Janchetna, in Ludhiana reopened its doors on Wednesday after the city’s police gave in to popular protests and reversed its decision to seal the store following an alleged incident of vandalism at the shop by the members of a right-wing organisation.
The police’s decision to seal the bookstore came as a response to complaints lodged by members of far-right Hindu organisations that alleged that Janchetna Publishers has been “brainwashing the youth, “promoting anti-Hindu literature” and “propagating anti-India ideology among youth,” according to a report released by the bookstore after the incident.
The goons, who accused Janchetna of “promoting atheism” and “hurting religious sentiments” in their complaint, also submitted texts such as Bhagat Singh’s Why I am an Atheist and Radha Mohan Gokulji’s Ishwar ka Bahiskar as proof of their claims.
The entire episode started on January 2, when Shivani, a 21-year-old local, argued with her parents by insisting on staying at the bookshop against her parents’ wishes. According to the Indian Express, she told police that she wanted to stay at Janchetna and teach poor children.
However, according to Janchetna, once Shivani’s parents realised she intended to participate in the bookstore’s “campaign of promoting and propagating progressive and revolutionary literature” they approached “Hindtuva goons” from the right-wing organisation Shri Hindu Takht, complaining that the bookstore was corrupting the youth by promoting “anti-Indian” ideologies.
As a result, Shri Hindu Takht members, in the passive presence of police, allegedly ransacked the bookstore, “misbehaved” with the store’s manager Binny and manhandled and abused other employees present at the scene. In her complaint to the police, Binny said,“Hindu outfit representatives abused me and said they would put our shop on fire. They said we were brainwashing youths to leave their religion and family. They also threatened to put all our literature on fire. All this happened in the presence of police and they illegally sealed our shop. Moreover, all titles they have sealed is legal literature being published for years. None of them is banned. We demand an FIR against them.”
Despite observing the vandalism and violence, police initially arrested those on the receiving end instead of the vandals. Janchetna reported that along with Binny, the police also arrested Lakhwinder, president of the Textiles Hosiery Kamgar Union, Gurjeet (also known as Samar), an activist from Karkhana Mazdoor Union and Satbir from the Naujawan Bharat Sabha. Following which, they sealed the shop for the following day.
Rohit Sawhney from Sri Hindu Takht denied Binny’s allegations and told the Tribune his version of events, “We immediately went to the store along with the parents. The police also seized the banned revolutionary literature, forcing revolutionary thoughts on the youth and making them anti-Hindu. Our complaint has been sent to the DA (Legal) by the police. An FIR under section 295-A of the IPC could be registered against the Jan Chetna store.”
The Indian Express quoted him as saying, “We never misbehaved with that woman and took police along.”
Leftist organisations in the city were quick to mobilise in Janchetna’s defence. On Tuesday, the day after the ransacking and sealing of the shop, members of several organisations including the Textile Hosiery Kamgar Union, Punjab Students Union, Naujawan Bharat Sabha, Inquilabi Kender Punjab, Democratic Employees Front, Tarksheel Society Punjab and Lok Ekta Sangathan protested outside the Ludhiana’s Division Number 5 police station.
The protestors, who lay “siege” to the police station, according to Janchetna’s statement, demanded that strict action be taken against the vandals as well as the police who were present but did not intervene. After a 24-hour protest, the ACP asked for 24 hours to take action against the attackers and buckled under pressure to return the store’s keys to its employees, allowing Janchetna to open for business on Wednesday.
However, the case is far from resolved. Beant Juneja, the branch’s station house officer (SHO) told Indian Express, “We are taking legal opinion on the complaint submitted by Hindu outfits alleging anti-Hindu text in books, but none of the titles are banned so we got the shop reopened. Matter is being probed from both sides. No FIR has been registered yet.”
Writing on behalf of Janchetna, Anand stated, “This incident is in continuation of the increasing attack on the rational thoughts and freedom of expression being carried out by the Hindutva gang with increasing regularity ever since the Modi government has come to power. It is particularly dangerous because the Hindu fundamentalists have had less support base in Punjab compared with other parts of the country.”
He added, “Clearly, grass root mobilisation against such tends is the need of the hour. This incident shows yet again that the fascist forces are afraid of revolutionary, democratic and rational ideas. Janchetna will carry on the task of promoting and propagating the literature containing such ideas.”