Agra: Event Honouring Geetanjali Shree Cancelled After ‘Offensive Content’ Complaint

The complaint said that the book 'Ret Samadhi', whose English translation won the International Booker Prize, hurt Hindu sentiments.

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An event in Agra to honour the 2022 International Booker Prize-winning Hindi author Geetanjali Shree was called off on July 29 after a complaint lodged with the Hathras police claimed that her work contained objectionable and obscene remarks. The event was supposed to be held on July 30.

The complaint was registered by one Sandeep Pathak, a resident of the Sadabad town in Hathras. Pathak said that the book Ret Samadhi – translated into English as Tomb of Sand and the winner of the International Booker Prize – contained objectionable depictions of the deities Lord Shiva and Parvati, which “hurt the sentiments of Hindus”.

He claimed her writing had “extremely obscene remarks” and shared the “objectionable” paragraph of the book on his Twitter account. He tagged the accounts of UP chief minister Yogi Adityanath and several senior UP police officials.

The organisers of the event, Anil Shukla of the Rangleela Social and Cultural Trust and Harvijay Bahia of the Agra Theatre Club, issued a joint statement expressing their sadness at the event being called off. They pointed out that Shree hailed from the state and her father was an IAS officer in the Agra division.

Speaking to The Wire, Shukla said that the organisers of the event and Agra’s civil society members would be gathering on Saturday to decide a new plan of action as well as protest against the turn of events. “We will have a protest. We were even planning to organise a Hindi katha-vachan (oral story-telling enactment) similar to a dastangoi based on Shree’s story ‘Private Lives’,” Shukla pointed out.

Although the police have yet to convert Pathak’s complaint into an FIR, Shukla informed that there was “a lot of tension created” over the past week. He added the members of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidya Parishad had attempted to foil an event organised by the JNU Teachers’ Association (JNUTA) on Wednesday, July 27. Since then, several groups have been “causing a lot of problems” and trying to stop the Agra event from happening, Shukla said. Shree is an alumnus of JNU.

Earlier in May this year, Shree, along with translator Daisy Rockwell, won the International Booker Prize for the translation of Ret Samadhi. The award marked the first for a Hindi and Indian language piece of literature. The book is about the story of an 80-year-old woman who visits Pakistan as a Partition survivor, and in the process also navigates questions of identity, emotional trauma, life and death, and various roles imposed as a woman in society. Shree has written five novels and five short stories.