Over his fourth cup of tea in a restaurant near the Andheri Magistrate Court, Abdul Rehman Abbas Dhamaskar (44) is laughing. “We are still using a law that the British have stopped using!”
On Friday, a metropolitan magistrate acquitted him of charges of obscenity and words used to insult the modesty of a woman, related to his 1994 novel, Nakhlistan ki Talash (The Search of an Oasis).
His legal ordeal started in 2005, when a 19-year-old student of Mumbai University’s Urdu Department lodged a complaint saying she found two paragraphs in the novel ‘objectionable’ and ‘obscene’. Shortly after, in the wee hours of morning, the police came to his house to arrest him. They were going to handcuff him but, learning that he was a writer, they didn’t. The allegation lost him his job as a teacher at Anjuman-e-Islam’s English High School and Allana Junior College, and he was condemned by a large section of the Urdu media.
The book was a romance set in the highly polarised Mumbai after the 1992-93 riots; its protagonist, Jamal, has an identity crisis and joins an Islamic organisation in Jammu and Kashmir. “We have seen riots very closely and we have seen our close friends change,” Mr. Abas says, “What I have highlighted is that even if you are a terrorist, you still think of your girlfriend and about the good or bad moments. Jamal was a secular and liberal guy, but goes on to become an extremist.” The ‘obscene’ part is a two-paragraph section where Jamal is reminiscing about the girl he loved. “They weren’t even making love, it was just him imagining loving her.”
He was acquitted of all charges last month when the student retracted her statement and said she had misunderstood the writing and had no issue with the book. Mr. Abbas says his fight isn’t over. He wants to mobilise people against section 292 (sale of obscene books) of the Indian Penal Code. “The law needs to be abolished. When the British have abolished it, why are we carrying it? Why is it used against creative writing? No writer should be harassed in the name of obscenity. I can’t wait for others to do things. I will have to do it.”
Mr Abbas is no stranger to activism. He was one of the writers who returned their Sahitya Akademi awards (his was for his third novel Hide and Seek in the Shadow of God) during the “Award Wapasi” protest by writers and intellectuals during the intolerance debate in 2015.http://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/acquitted-of-obscenity-charges-urdu-writer-vows-to-fight-britishera-law/article9008993.ece