Friday, March 6, 2015

Conference Report 2015

Report of the proceedings of MELOW (The Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the World) 14th International Conference DAMN THE BOOK, GAG THE VOICE: LITERATURE AND CENSORSHIP, CHANDIGARH (20-22 February 2015).
The 14thMELOW International Conference, "Damn the Book, Gag the Voice: Literature and Censorship" began on 20 February 2015 at 10:30 am with the inaugural session with Professor Manju Jaidka , the Secretary of MELOW recapping how a bunch of members from Panjab University under the suggestion of Professor Amritjit Singh formed the association in 1998, which eventually matured into MELUS-India, and later into MELOW. Professor Manju Jaidka introduced the Chief Guest, Mr Kanwar Sandhu a renowned Journalist, and Ex-Editor of The Tribune, and the Guest of Honor, Professor Amritjit Singh who is the Langston Hughes Professor of English in Ohio University, presently a Fulbright Nehru Professor of English at Delhi University.
Professor Anil Raina , Vice President of MELOW threw  light on the theme of the conference, pointing out how Censorship was an old phenomenon dating back to the Greeks.
The chief guest of the day, Mr. Kanwar Sandhu, gave the keynote speech. In tune with the theme of the conference and sessions, Mr. Kanwar Sandhu spoke about the intrinsic relationship between Censorship and Creativity, where the two are like Siamese twins. Censorship fuels creativity and resistance to it gives rise to great works of art. While talking about censorship, he emphasized how people in power, be they in religion, politics or society, try to control and silence the voices that speak the truth that does not suit those in power. Artistic and cultural practices have always been under the surveillance of censors. Sandhu referred to the musical band Junoon that was banned in Pakistan during the reign of Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif during 1990s. However, according to him the censors’ dilemma has also to be taken into consideration, in cases where the censor is not consciously aware of her/his being on the devil’s side. Similarly, censorship was at work during the Emergency in India in 1975, but ironically it was the most creative period in any field during that time.
While talking about the relationship between literature, art and journalism Sandhu emphasized the need of importing the concept of embedded journalism to India. Embedded journalism was first used during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. It came into being as a response of the United States Military to the constant pressure from the country's news media. Media was disappointed by the level of access granted during the Gulf War 1991 and invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
The Guest of Honor Professor Amritjit Singh congratulated the members of MELOW society for their dedication and work, and how their joint efforts had made MELOW a success. He in particular appreciated the efforts of Professor Manju Jaidka who has always been one of the strong pillars of the society. Singh argued that censorship is also used as a tool to gain publicity and readership by some authors and some agencies. Some authors gain readership only after being censored, while in reality their work does not carry much literary worth.
The vote of thanks was given by Dr. Manpreet Kaur, joint secretary of MELOW.
After the inauguration and keynote address, a total of eighteen technical sessions were held over three consecutive days, with each session being chaired by a Professor. The papers in each session were grouped together based on common themes and issues. Each paper presenter was given 15 minutes to present his/her paper and 10 minutes were kept for discussion on each paper.
Day 1: 20 February 2015
Session A1: The session was chaired by Professor Ashis Sengupta. Four papers were presented in the session that addressed issues like female body, sexuality, desire, child rape and racism. The papers highlighted how resistance and writing act as a kind of weapon in the hands of women writers.  The papers analyzed the novels like Bronte’s Wuthering Heights, Saratchandra’s  Devdas, Alice Walker's Color Purple , Maya Angelou’s I know why the Caged Bird Sings, Toni Morrison’s Beloved  and Ursula Kroeber Le Guin’s The Ones Who Walks Away From Omelas .
Session A2:  The session was chaired by ProfessorAnup Beniwal.  Four papers were presented in the session that talked about theoretical aspects of censorship. Michael Foucault was the binding force in almost all the papers.  The papers analyzed the nature of Epistemic violence and how Domination control theory was responsible for the Othering of Nature.
Session A3: The session was chaired by Professor Tejnath Dhar. Four papers were presented that discussed how religion becomes a censoring agency to silence the voice of the writers. The voices were tagged as blasphemous and this lead to the exile of the author or the banning of the book. Religion is used by several interest groups in the society as a tool to maintain status quo.  The texts that were discussed were Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and Haroun,m D.N.mJha’s  The Myth of the Holy Cow, Ramanujan’s essay 300 Ramayanas  and Wendy Doniger’s  The Hindu: An Alternative History. Banning on account of religious beliefs has often made the author and the work famous.
Session B1: The session was chaired by Dr. Roshanlal Sharma.   In this session five papers were presented that focused on American novels like The  Color Purple, The Adventures of Huckleberry FinnSlaughter House Five,  British novels  like  Animal Farm and Brave New World, and the work of the Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka.
Session B2: The session was chaired by Professor Amritjit Singh. In this session the four papers presented addressed issues that covered a wide range of genres from fiction to nonfiction, from theatre to film media, and translated works. The papers highlighted the way censorship is perceived by artists and intellectuals across the globe.  The resistance inheres in power itself, and the ‘politics of performance ‘can be a bulwark against the ‘performance of politics.’
Session B3:  The session was chaired by Professor Anup  Beniwal.  The session highlighted the politics of female body, the deviant body, and the forbidden body. Sexuality is a differentiating function of human beings that informs one's being and is innate to one's identity. It is part of the search for identity in a world that is proliferated by images and stereotypes that implicitly or explicitly force you to conform and limit the possibility of being. There is strong need to confront these images and stereotypes in the search for personal and artistic freedom.

Day2:  21 February 2015
The parallel sessions resumed on Day 2 of the conference beginning at 9.15 am on 21 February, 2015.
Session C1: The session was chaired by Professor Krishnan Unni. It included five papers. The papers raised the issues of freedom of speech and its indispensability for creative writing. Censorship is an outcome of a complex dialectics between the State and the Author. The written word connotes power and makes the people in power uneasy when it is challenges their hegemony. The writer raises pertinent questions and articulates the truth; no matter how uneasy and embarrassing the truth is.  The writers tell the alternative tale, the alternative truth that is not permissible.
Session C2: The session was chaired by Professor Ashis Sengupta. It included five papers which analyzed the roots of censorship that go deep to the socio-economic core, and to the very structure of family, where family becomes one of the subtle agencies of censorship. Production is linked directly to reproduction and anything that is not productive is deemed to be rejected and censored. Conformity and homogeneity is allowed, so that it is easy to control and rule the people in question. The journey of the word to the world is rife with censors. The editor, publisher, and anthologiser consciously or unconsciously can act as censors.
Session C3: The session was chaired by Professor Rajeshwari Pandharipande. This session included five papers that discussed children’s literature and the difficulty of deciding what to include and what to exclude in it. Parenting has become a difficult job in this postmodern, posthuman and techno savvy world where it is difficult to control the flow of information or the implosion of images. From Barbie dolls to Sherlock Holmes, the subtlety involved in choosing the right kind of literature and reading for children has become a debatable issue.
ISM Session:  This session continued the practice of remembering the late Prof Isaac Sequeira, a patron of the organization, who was a mentor to several generations of scholars. The session for the Isaac Sequeira Memorial Award was chaired by Professor Amritjit Singh. The session included three papers that were shortlisted out of 27 submissions.  Each presenter was given 20 minutes to present the paper. The judges selected Anupam Vatsyayan’s ‘The Bard and the Bawdiness: Profanity and Censorship in the Shakespearean Canon’ as the best. Anupam was awarded the ISM Certificate and a cash prize of Rs. 5,000. The judges for the competition were Profs. Mohan Ramanan (Hyderabad), Tejnath Dhar (Faridabad) and Ashis Sengupta (Darjeeling).
This was followed by a special ISM lecture in honour of the late Prof Sequeira by Professor Amritjit Singh. The spoke at length about Prof Sequeira and then touched upon the varied hues and shades of censorship. Professor Amritjit Singh said that censorship is a pervasive phenomenon and is not only confined to literature; it affects and impedes Journalism and scholars alike. Censorship has its roots in fear and the desire to control, regulate and suppress. It is also important to consider the pattern of self- censorship in which writers, journalists and scholars surrender themselves to a variety of circumstances. Attention must also to be paid to the specters of ‘political correctness’ of the Left and the Right attempting to ban books completely or at least to throw them from out of schools and libraries.
Session D1:  The session was chaired by Dr. Nandini Bhadra.  The papers highlighted contested spaces like the street theater/folk theater, and the censoring of these spaces. These spaces provide what Bakhtin calls a Dialogic space, where many voices are in constant dialogue. The space becomes polyphonic in nature, voicing varied voices simultaneously.
Session D2: The session was chaired by Professor Tejnath Dhar.  The papers focused on the censoring of Films and media. According to Matthew Arnold, Journalism is literature in hurry, and in the present times journalism has taken many forms and has a wide reach. Journalists are under constant threats from various sources. Similarly, films have always been under the constant scrutiny of the censor board; they have been banned on the grounds of sexuality, nudity, violence, or of threatening the integrity of the nation. The censor board has functioned as one of the control systems of the government to silence the voices that challenge the societal norms or that provide new models for the society to follow. Life is affected by films and media; it is also the other way around.
Session D3: The session was chaired by Professor Krishnan Unni.  Five papers were presented in the session. The session discussed the politics of Religion, specifically targeting the Hindutva Right Wing Politics. Censorship has become an oppressive weapon in the hands of Hindutva zealots. Moral policing has done so much harm to creative ventures that question the totalizing and homogenizing projects of the Hindutva Right Wing politics. The texts that were analyzed during the session were Ramanujan’s Three hundred Ramayanas, Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History , and  Lindsey Collen’s  The Rape Of Sita.

Day 3:  22 February, 2015.
The parallel sessions resumed on the third and last day of the conference. However, the day began with a special lecture by Professor Anil Raina, on Academic Writing at 9:15 am.
Academic Writing: Special lecture by Professor Anil Raina. Professor Anil Riana talked about the importance of keeping in mind various aspects of writing a research paper. According to him, a research paper is meant for and addressed to a special audience. The audience belongs to what he calls Academia or discourse community and a researcher always has to enter in a kind of dialogue with the audience and other discourses. Anil Raina talked about the practical, ethical and moral issues involved in writing a research paper.
Session E1: The session, chaired by Dr. Vivek Sachdeva, included three papers that discussed the reasons behind the censoring of two controversial texts from Muslim women writers from Iran and Pakistan respectively.  The papers analyzed the reasons behind the banning of texts like Azar Nafisi’s Reading Lolita in Tehran, and the most recent Malala’s I am Malala.
Session E2: The session was chaired by Dr. Ismael Saeed.  The session included three papers. The papers highlighted the effects of censorship and how censorship only aids in reinforcing ideas and ideals that are curbed. Censorship has paradoxically played a very important role in the dissemination of the radical ideas in the society. The role of the intellectual becomes very crucial in this regard.
Session E3: The session was chaired by Professor Krishnan Unni. Three papers were presented that talked about Dalit writers and literature in India and the racial/ tribal divide in Afghanistan. The stigma of untouchability has made the life of Dalits insufferable .The caste system not only divides the society, it also questions human values and dignity. The binary of pollution and purity marginalizes a major section of the society.
Session F1: The session was chaired by Professor Pratibha Nagpal.  Three papers presented in the session deliberated on the binary of Violence and Silence. Rape is always seen as an articulation of sex rather than violence. It is always shrouded in secrecy and nobody talks about this act of violence in public.  The representation of sexual violence sometimes occurs as a minor narrative and the author sometimes keeps silent. But there are writers who have voiced and portrayed points of view from the margins and periphery.
Session F2: The session was chaired by Dr. Roshanlal Sharma. Three papers were presented in this session. The papers discussed the revolutionary nature of Beat writers of the 1960s who celebrated an escapist euphoric existence against the backdrop of the US militarism, the appropriation of Shakespeare’s work by Thomas Bowdler to make it suitable for Victorian reading, the gendered nature of films and other forms of media on children, the advent of hypersexuality  in the Films like The Dirty Picture and its effects on the psyche of children.
In the concluding session of the conference a comprehensive report of the three-day event was read  out by Naheed Shah. The participants were then asked to give their impressions of the conference. Ishmael Saeed, from war-torn Iraq, was effusive in his remarks: he said it was a very fruitful experience and he would make it a point to attend MELOW Conferences in future, too.  Poonkulaly, from London, appreciated the efforts of the organizers and the friendly atmosphere that prevailed at the conference. Several other delegates expressed their satisfaction with the high standards being maintained by MELOW.
The Valedictory session continued into a General Body Meeting of all members, as is the practice at every conference. A detailed, audited statement of expenses incurred over the last financial year was presented by the Treasurer, Meenu Gupta, and the Vice-President, Anil Raina. This statement was passed unanimously by the GBM. The issues of the theme and venue of the next conference, the various deadlines for notification, abstracts, acceptances,  were kept pending as It was decided that the possibility of holding the conference in another city would be explored first and only then would the deadlines be fixed.
Regarding the theme for the next conference, a suggestion that seemed to find favour was the main theme of “Literature and Social Change” which would explore the relationship between literature and society, how the one impacts the other. The members present were asked to apply their minds to the suggestion and revert with some ideas that could be pursued.
Further, it was unanimously agreed that the present Office Bearers would continue till the next conference. At the next conference a fresh election would be heldand changes made accordingly.  Further information would be disseminated through the Google group, Facebook and Blog. Members were asked to remain updated.
The conference ended on a buoyant note with everyone feeling satisfied on having spent three fruitful days in intellectually stimulating discussion.

President: Prof Sushila Singh, BHU, Varanasi.
Vice-President: Prof Anil Raina, PU, Chandigarh.
Secretary: Prof Manju Jaidka, PU, Chandigarh.
Jt. Secy: Dr Manpreet Kaur, IPU, Delhi.
Treasurer: Dr Meenu Gupta, PU, Chandigarh.

Executive Members:
·         Prof Ashis Sengupta (Darjeeling
·          Dr Vijay Sharma (Delhi)
·          Dr Roshan Sharma (Solan, HP)
·          Dr A. Hari Prasad (Hyderabad)
·          Dr Pranav Joshipura (Gujrat)
·          Dr Seema Bhupendra (Rajasthan)
·          Dr RG Kulkarni (Sangli)
·          Dr Neela Sarkar (WB)
·          Dr Ravinder Singh (Jammu)
·          Dr Jyoti Mishra (CG)

Advisory Board:
• Prof Paul Giles, Oxford University 
• Prof Mukesh Williams, Soka University, Japan
• Prof Sushi Dutta-Sandhu, U Mich, Kalamazoo, USA
• Prof E. Nageswara Rao, Hyderabad

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