When Amar Neupane’s novel Seto Dharti was awarded this year’s Madan Puraskar, one of the most prestigious literary honors in Nepal, the book was sold out in the market. The publishers had to rush to get the book re-printed and distribute it to meet the readers’ demand. However, just after a month, it was torched in the streets of Pokhara.
Bhujel Sewa Samiti, an organization of the Bhujel community, torched the novel in Pokhara on October 19, accusing the novel of humiliating their community. The writer says that he also received phone threats from the people claiming to be the members of the community to physically harm him if the amendments are not done.
According to Niraj Bhari, publisher of the book, the Bhujel community has reservations regarding the depiction of their community as “Dole”, the ones who carry bridal carriages, in the novel. “They totally misunderstood the context and the history of how the characters were depicted in the novel. In our view, no community has been humiliated in the book,” he says.
The publisher and the writer issued a joint press statement on Wednesday clarifying that they do not agree with the accusations made by the Bhujel community. They have stated that they will make no amendments as said by the community and are not apologetic for the depiction of the characters stated.
Bhari says that initially they did not want to react over the misinterpretation made by the community but their friends from the literary circle suggested that they take a step from their side. “This is not just about one book but about freedom of expression. These kinds of incidents might take place in the future too,” he says.
According to the publisher, the members of Bhujel community have also threatened the book store owners to get rid off the book in Pokhara. Since Pokhara is the second biggest market after the capital, the publishers say that they are bearing a heavy loss due to the incident.
Neupane claims that the depiction of the character in the novel is, in fact, in the favor of the community but the community has chosen to misinterpret. “The facts are not wrong, I have presented the history,” he says.
According to the press release, they have requested the Bhujel community to not threaten the writer of any physical harm or hamper the distribution of the book. They have also condemned the community’s act of the recent events.
While they have also requested the government, human rights organizations and other literary groups to support their step against the breach of freedom of expression, the writer requests the Bhujel community to not misinterpret the contents of the novel and clarifies that he has no intention of hurting any community’s sentiments.