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Not Tolstoy, it was Biswajit Roy’s ‘War and Peace in Junglemahal’ that HC judge asked about

Justice Kotwal clarifies he knows Tolstoy’s War and Peace but his question was about another book. Arrested activists’ lawyers say media created the confusion.

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New Delhi: A huge controversy had erupted Wednesday when news emerged that a Bombay High Court judge had questioned the presence of Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace in the house of activist Vernon Gonsalves arrested in the Elgar Parishad-Bhima Koregaon case.

However, the judge, Sarang V. Kotwal, clarified Thursday that it was not Tolstoy’s classic but another book titled War and Peace in Junglemahal: People, State and Maoists by Biswajit Roy that he was referring to.

‘Can’t a judge ask questions in court?’

The controversy erupted when the judge reportedly asked why Gonsalves kept “objectionable material” like a copy of Tolstoy’s War and Peace at his home. The remark kicked up a pan-India storm, especially on Twitter where #WarandPeace was trending.

However, during the hearing Thursday, Justice Kotwal is understood to have clarified that he was not referring to any particular book while posing questions to Gonsalves.

“I knew that Tolstoy’s War and Peace was a literary classic. I was reading the whole list from the panchnama attached to the charge sheet. It was written in such poor handwriting. I know War and Peace. And there I was making a query (on why Gonsalves had copies of these books) but did not want to suggest that everything was incriminating,” Justice Kotwal was quoted as saying by PTI.

“There were so many references to war and other titles. Before I went to War and Peace, I made a reference to Rajya Daman too. Can a judge not ask any questions in court?” he asked.

Lawyers say media created confusion

One of the lawyers representing another accused in the case confirmed that the book was the one written by Biswajit Roy.

“There’s a book called War and Peace in Junglemahal. That’s the book that was in the house search panchnama. The reporter misunderstood it to mean Tolstoy’s book,” the lawyer, who wished to remain anonymous, told ThePrint.

“There’s no reference to Tolstoy in the house search panchnama. This is an entirely different book written by Biswajit Roy, which is on an entirely different subject matter.”

The lawyer, in fact, added that the judge’s remarks Wednesday were in reference to the entire gamut of books found by the Pune Police in Gonsalves’ home.

“He [the judge] was referring to the entire gamut of books and he read out this title. He didn’t read it out in full because it wasn’t properly legible. So people didn’t hear the rest of the title but he was referring to the entire gamut of books when he posed that question asking ‘why do you have these books’. It wasn’t with reference to any Tolstoy book,” the lawyer added.

Another lawyer involved in the case blamed the media for having spun the judge’s observations wrongly, and asserted that the issue was bigger than just one book.

“What the judge stated was a query regarding books found in his house… How can you pick only one Leo Tolstoy? It was a bigger issue… Today, that query was answered in court — that none of the books that were found in his house were banned… This (confusion) was created by the media,” the second lawyer said.

Also read: ‘War and Peace’ judge has made news before — with matrimonial cruelty & acid attack cases

A reporter’s version of events

However, a reporter present in court on both days told ThePrint that the judge had questioned why Gonsalves was in possession of War and Peace, “which was about war in another country”.

According to the reporter, who did not wish to be identified, the judge began by taking the Pune police to task for not having been specific about the incriminating material in the books and CDs seized from the accused’s house.

“He asked how can he make out what’s actually in these. Vernon’s counsel then agreed, adding that anyway none of these books are incriminating as they are not banned or prohibited,” the reporter said.

However, Kotwal then questioned Gonsalves’ intent behind owning these books and CDs, based on their titles.

“The judge then said, and I quote him here, ‘what are you saying mister? The titles itself are very suggestive’. And then he read out a few titles, including Rajya Daman and a few others,” the reporter said.

“He said that these titles suggest that there’s something against the state. And then he came to War and Peace and asked why does he have War and Peace, and that this is about war in another country.”

The reporter said the judge clarified Thursday that he did know about Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace, and that he was simply reading out the list in the chargesheet. The judge also said the title wasn’t legible completely, so he just read out the part that was readable, while reiterating that he is fully aware of Tolstoy’s work.

Also read: Does War & Peace taunt show how poorly equipped Indian judges are to handle security cases?


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  1. Agreed it was wrong on the part of Media and others to jump the gun to target Justice Kotwal. Is it anti establishment to keep and read book War and Peace Junglemahal. I had with me Sarkar Anecdotes of Aurngazeb, can I be called follower of Aurngazeb.

    • Of course it’s not anti-establishment to keep an unbanned book and read it. Let’s not forget the book is only a corroborative evidence in sync with the actions the charitably called activist is charged to have committed.

  2. It’s really ironic that the victims of the infamous Emergency are now behaving like political malcontents, nay even as stooges of 10 JP and Lutyens world. Look at the way they underplayed RAGA’s change of heart on Kashmir after Pakistan’s letter to the UNHRC. Now that the proverbial egg is on their face after Justice Kotwal’s clarification they are clutching at the straw of his alleged question about war in another country. No matter how much poison they spew out daily they are not going to succeed in their plans of ousting the present government for people have seen through their hypocrisy and superciliousness.

  3. We are in a dangerous phase in journalism, where ideological beliefs of the editor and senior journalists are influencing the reporting. When I was growing up, the ideological stance of a newspaper was limited to the editorial columns. Now the entire publication is an editorial, where even the news is presented with an ideological bias. The Hindu and Indian Express are clearly guilty of it.

  4. Here is the quote from The Hindu about what the judge had said: “The title of the CD Rajya Daman Virodhi itself suggests it has something against the State while War and Peace is about a war in another country. Why did you [Gonsalves] keep objectionable material such as books like War and Peace, books and CDs at home? You will have to explain this to the court,” said Justice Kotwal.

    It is Tolstoy’s “War and Peace” which is about war in another country (Russia). So the Judge must have meant Tolstoy’s “War and Peace”, and not the “War and Peace” by Biswajit Roy.

  5. If ideas in a little book is so threatening to a state that its executive and judicial stooges are so frightened and are clamping on it, then such a state is not worthy of representing the Indian citizens. If a state cannot defend itself as to why it’s a better system for its citizens against other political ideas in fair public debates and discussions, such a state is not worth its weight on paper. Sultans replaced Hindu Kingdoms, Mughals replaced Sultans, British replaced Mughals, Baboos replaced the British. Did Indians really attain freedom of thought and speech? Are they not basic fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution? Why is the Indian way of democracy made so weak that it is fearful of other ideas? Who made it weak? The civilian baboos are the fat termites that have eating at the system for years that it has become a empty facade. Even corrupt netas get replaced once in a while, but the corrupt baboos get extensions even after surpassing their retirement ages. Have we run out of enough young people that we keep retaining the old senile baboos for ever? State of India serves Whom? Citizens or Bureaucratic handicaps.

  6. Two major newspaper houses (The Hindu and India Express) highlighted this as the lead story, explicitly calling out Tolstoy’s book. These papers have pretensions to real journalism but end up functioning as opposition outlets. They never bothered to check or to even read the actual panchnama. They didn’t even note that the judge hadn’t objected to those books – the judge just asked for the intent. Of course, the story is gone from their front pages now, all without an apology or clarification or an explanation. It’s hit and run journalism that damages democracy and free press.

  7. The difference between news and sensationalism is decreasing. One cannot just blame the WhatsApp University subscribers but also supposedly well-read journalists who are ever ready to jump the gun.

    • In fact all our ‘mainstream’ media journalists have been creating fake/ misleading news for decades. Social media gets all the flak when the origins of fake news lie elsewhere.

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