Tuesday, September 13, 2005
Bengali with a Death Wish
An Indian court has ordered a leading Bengali poet to stand trial on charges of defiling a Hindu goddess.
The court in India's West Bengal state was ruling on a lawsuit filed against Sunil Gangopadhyay by an ex-policeman. In an article in Bengal's biggest newspaper this year, Mr Gangopadhyay was quoted as saying he was "sexually aroused" by an idol of Saraswati. Retired policeman Bhibhuti Bhusan Nandy filed a lawsuit saying the comments had hurt his religious sentiments. Additional chief judicial magistrate in Calcutta's Alipore court, Manjit Singh, ordered Mr Gangopadhyay to appear in court on 3 December. The court also ordered legal proceedings against three others - Aveek Kumar Sarkar, editor of the Anandabazar Patrika newspaper, its publisher Bijit Kumar Basu, and chief executive Subir Mitra.
Mr Gangopadhyay, 71, was quoted in Anandabazar as saying he had kissed an idol of Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning, to satisfy his desire. Mr Nandy, who has retired as the chief of the paramilitary Indo-Tibetan Border Police, filed a formal complaint with the police against the author.
"I am delighted the court has started appropriate legal proceedings," Mr Nandy said.
Mr Gangopadhyay told the BBC on Monday that he was not taking the case seriously.
"Some religious zealots are playing this up - mine was a light-hearted remark on Goddess Saraswati. Her idol did not evoke devotion in me when I was young. I found her very attractive and that is what I said," said Mr Gangopadhyay.
"In Bengal, Hindus are known to crack jokes at the expense of their gods and goddesses and that's what I did," he said.
"I have done no wrong but the zealots are trying to attack me because I am so critical of them. I am not afraid of them - as a writer I have the freedom to say such things and I and my publisher will fight it out in court."
Mr Gangopadhyay is West Bengal's best known living poet and novelist with more than 250 books to his name. But he is no stranger to controversy. Two years ago, there were protests outside a newspaper office in Calcutta after he wrote about the sex life of Indian spiritual leader, Ramakrishna Paramhansa. He also described Kali, the Hindu goddess of power, as a "tribal whore", triggering protests by Santhal tribes people and Hindus. Last year, the Bangladesh government banned an issue of an Indian magazine which carried a story by Mr Gangopadhyay in which he wrote about the sex life of the Prophet Mohammad.
One thing I have learned in my life is that you don't mess with religion. Leave them alone and hopefully (!!) they will leave you alone. Top on the list of religions not to mess with are Islam and Hinduism... Foolish man!
San Nakji for President!