A controversial move by the Bharatiya Janata Party-led government of Manipur, requiring books on the culture, history, traditions and geography of the state to be approved by a review board before publication has been criticized as unconstitutional by experts and commentators.
Anyone who wants to publish a book on these state-relevant topics ordered on Thursday that the manuscript must be submitted to the committee for approval, otherwise there is a risk of punishment by the state department for higher and technical education.
“Many books are being published about the state, adding to our knowledge store of several centuries and containing knowledge about our past civilizations and cultures,” read the order, issued by Nivedita Lalrenlakpam, the joint secretary.
Some books published on the culture, history, tradition and geography of the state “contain material that could either distort facts or disturb the peaceful coexistence between the different communities,” Manipur said.
“To ensure that books on the state’s history, culture, tradition and geography are published with accurate information,” the government set up a 15-member committee to authorize the publication of books dealing with the four subjects.
Anyone wishing to publish a book on the subjects must submit an application, along with the manuscript, to the committee for approval. “Any publication of books that violates the law will be punished according to the applicable law,” she added.
The Examination Board will have the State Education Minister Th. Basanta Kumar Singh as Chair and the Director of University and Higher Education as Member Secretary. Members include Vice Chancellors of Manipur University, Manipur University of Culture and Dhanamanjuri University.
“This government move is a mistake and a threat to research and scientific thought. They try to impose restrictions on free thinking and research. The committee should be dissolved,” said MC Arun Kumar, professor of anthropology at Manipur University and policy analyst.
Some claim the government move was in response to a doctoral thesis by retired Brigadier Sushil Kumar Sharma, which found that the princely state of Manipur covered only about 700 square miles in the Imphal Valley at the time of its merger with India.
The thesis, published as a book titled The Complexity Called Manipur: Roots, Perceptions and Reality, suggests that the hilly areas of the state, inhabited by Nagas, Kukis, and other tribes, account for nearly 90% of the state’s total area , were not formerly part of Manipur.
“The government’s move is unconstitutional and a violation of academic freedom. The government can challenge the constitutionality of the claims in Sharma’s book, but it cannot be used to control freedom of expression for all,” said lawyer and human rights activist Babloo Loitongbam.
“It’s a cruel move. Ever since the BJP first formed a government in 2017, there has been a pattern for such things in Manipur. There have been restrictions on press freedom, attacks on human rights activists and now this. I think it stems from a sense of insecurity and a need for control,” said journalist Pradip Phanjoubam. “The move has a very weak legal basis and should be challenged in court.”