The National Council for Promotion of Urdu Language (NCPUL), which operates under the Ministry of Human Resource Development, has introduced a form which requires authors of books NCPUL acquires annually to declare that the content will not be against the government or the country.
The form, received by several Urdu writers and editors over the past few months, also asks authors to provide signatures of two witnesses. Originally circulated in Urdu, the form, accessed by The Indian Express, reads: “I son/daughter of confirm that my book/magazine titled which has been approved for bulk purchase by NCPUL’s monetary assistance scheme does not contain anything against the policies of the government of India or the interest of the nation, does not cause disharmony of any sort between different classes of the country, and is not monetarily supported by any government or non-government institution.”
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It also warns that in case of a breach, the NCPUL can take legal action against the author and take back the monetary assistance.
NCPUL director Irteza Karim, who was appointed early last year, said, “If a writer wants financial aid from the government, then of course the content cannot be against (the government). NCPUL is a government organisation and we are government employees. We will naturally protect the interests of the government.”
“The decision to add this declaration form was taken about a year ago at a meeting of the council members, which includes members of the HRD Ministry. The Home Ministry is also in the know of things,” Karim said.
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“The council has to face many problems; sometimes books written by one author are submitted under another’s name and we get embroiled in legal issues. Since we do not have the manpower to scrutinise every single line of each book, this form helps us place the onus on the authors,” he added.
Karim said the move was triggered by an incident last year when a book on Abul Kalam Azad put out some incorrect information. “He is a national figure and misinformation on him can become a national issue. We cannot take responsibility for everything,” Karim said.
Urdu writers criticised the form, saying it strives to “strangle dissent”. Shanaaz Nabi, an author and a professor at the University of Calcutta, received the form earlier this week along with a letter stating that her selection of literary essays, titled Tamquivi Mutaliyat, has been selected for acquisition by the NCPUL in 2016.
“It is an insult to ask an author to get two witnesses to sign a declaration that will curb their freedom of expression,” said Nabi. Nabi said this was a way of arm-twisting the writers into complying with the “government’s shenanigans” as Urdu literature is suffering and writers need the money.
Jamshedpur-based Abrar Mujib, editor of a bi-annual magazine titled Raavi, said the point of literature is to critique the government and point out flaws in society. “But such a loosely-worded declaration makes everyone vulnerable and can place immense power in the hands of the government to strangle any dissent,” he said, adding that no one has been provided any guidelines that define what counts as objectionable.