Bibliophiles protest Assam move to kill reading habit

Yesterday’s science fiction is today’s fact. Angry bibliophiles demonstrated this in the Assam capital on Monday.

Decades ago, novelist Ray Bradbury envisaged a robotic, subservient society kept away from books that could help them think. In his fiction Fahrenheit 451, books are for burning and rebellious readers are given a date with a killer mechanical dog.

A couple of police dogs did keep watch on some 500 book lovers and publishers who protested the Tarun Gogoi government’s "bid to kill the reading habit". But they let their handlers in khaki raise the temperature instead.

Resentment among bibliophiles grew after the Kamrup (Metropolitan) district authorities cited security reasons to shift two major annual book fairs out of the city. The Judges’ Field, in the heart of the city, was the traditional venue for both the Guwahati Grantha Mela and the Northeast Book Fair.

Five years ago, the government made Judges’ Field out of bounds for the public, reserving it only for Republic Day and Independence Day functions. Consequently, the book fairs were shifted to the Sonaram School Field and Engineering Institute Field within a 5 km radius of Judges’ Field.

“These two venues are not so conveniently located, but they were at least accessible for bibliophiles,” Giripada Deva Choudhury, president of All Assam Book Publishers and Sellers Association, told Hindustan Times. “But the venue on the city outskirts where the government wants the book fairs to be shifted has no infrastructure and no connectivity.”

According to protest organizer Kamal Kumar Medhi, the government’s anti-bibliophile order was illogical. He said: “If books are a security threat, how come Meena Bazaars, theatres and religious congregations held in the city venues aren’t?”

Consumer rights activist Deven Dutta felt the government was wielding security as excuse to quietly allow a moneyed clique take Judges’ Field over for an elite club. “Luxury for the influential apparently matters more than the simple pleasure of reading for the masses,” he said.

The government’s whimsical decision, felt retired Gauhati University professor Hiren Gohain, was reminiscent of Bradbury’s fictional work. “What the authorities have conveyed is their intention of killing the reading habit, so that youngsters do not grow up into a thinking lot that asks uncomfortable questions.”

Kamrup (Metropolitan) Deputy Commissioner Prateek Hajela, who was handed a memorandum by the protestors, said the government would weigh the bibliophiles’ demand. “The earlier order stays as of now,” he added.