On 19 August 2016, a lower court in Mumbai delivered a judgment on a ten-year-old case against the Urdu novel Nakhlistan ki Talash (In Search of an Oasis). The novel and its author, Rahman Abbas, were acquitted of obscenity charges made under the colonial-era Section 292 (sale of obscene books) of the Indian Penal Code. Abbas feels free today, and vindicated, and so do all readers and writers. But he spent ten years searching for an oasis without regressive, outdated laws, where writers and readers can do what they must without supervision by the thought police.
The book, a romance set in Mumbai after the 1992-93 riots, takes on two themes Rahman Abbas has returned to time and again: love and politics. In 2005, a nineteen year old Mumbai student lodged a complaint against the novel, objecting that two paragraphs in it were “objectionable and obscene”. The publisher, distributor and author were charged. The police went to the author’s home to arrest him. He spent a night in jail; the allegation cost him his job as a school teacher. It also brought him vilification from fundamentalists and sections of the Urdu media for questioning “religion” and “the existence of God”.