With support from the Opposition, the Jharkhand government on Friday told the Assembly that it would take strict action against Sowvendra Shekhar Hansda, a Santhali novelist and government doctor, for allegedly portraying Santhal women in poor light in one of his books. The action could include registration of FIR against him and seizure of copies of the book, The Adivasi Will Not Dance, besides a ban. However, the police is yet to register an FIR.
The action comes in the wake of a protest by some tribal groups in Pakur, where Hansda is deputed in the Additional Public Health Centre of Pakuria block. Tribal activist Gladson Dungdung has also criticised his work, though maintaining that harassing someone is not right. An online petition campaign by a woman from Dumka, who works in Delhi, has been launched seeking withdrawal of Hansda’s Sahitya Akademi award. Hansda had received the Sahitya Akademi Yuva Puraskar 2015 for his book, The Mysterious Ailment of Rupi Baskey.
Despite repeated efforts, Hansda could not be contacted. The matter was raised in the Assembly on Friday by BJP’s Ghatshila MLA Laxman Tudu. Referring to a news report published in Hindi daily Hindustan, Tudu said the contents of the book were highly insulting towards Santhal women. “As per the news report, one of the stories paints such an objectionable picture that action must be taken. The story says that the woman agreed to go to bed with anybody in lieu of something to eat. Is it not objectionable?” he said.
Hemant Soren, leader of Opposition and acting chief of Jharkhand Mukti Morcha, supported Tudu’s contention and demanded that action be taken against Hansda as he was a government doctor.
Holding that the sentiment of the entire House, across party lines, was in favour of action against Hansda, BJP chief whip in the Assembly Radha Krishna Kishore said: “The matter requires action under the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) Act.”
Presenting the government’s stand on the matter in the House, Parliamentary Affairs Minister Saryu Roy said: “The government is aware of the development and was already planning action in this regard.” The Deputy Commissioner of Pakur has been asked to inquire into the matter and take strict action, he told the House. He, however, rejected Soren’s proposal to bring the book in the House, saying it was a case where the book should be banned.
According to the news report, the third story in Hansda’s book The Adivasi Will Not Dance talks about a Santhal woman who agrees to go to bed with a man in exchange for food. The report also mentions that the Home Department has been informed about anger prevailing in Santhal Pargana region due to the book. Some tribal groups have burnt effigies and taken out marches in protest.