Mr Mistry’s second novel Such a Long Journey, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, was removed from Mumbai University’s literature syllabus following threats from the Shiv Sena, a violent political group which promotes the state’s indigenous Marathi people.
Rajan Weluka, the university’s vice-chancellor, withdrew the book, which was first published in 1992, after Sena thugs burned copies of it in front of television cameras and threatened to burn the author too if he returned from Canada where he now lives.
According to the Sena group, Such a Long Journey makes disparaging comments about Shiv Sena and the Marathis, Mumbai’s famous "Dabbawalahs", who deliver millions of "tiffin" lunch tins to office workers.
The novel focuses on a struggling bank clerk in the city’s Parsee community who becomes embroiled in a dubious financial scheme and local politics during Indira Gandhi’s rule as prime minister.
Samar Halarnkar, a leading Indian commentator, said he believed the protests were a cynical ploy to raise the profile of the youngest member of the Shiv Sena’s ruling Thackeray family, Aditya, who is currently a student at Mumbai University.
In a statement read out by supporters at Mumbai’s Press Club, Mr Mistry said that he was more disappointed by the university’s decision to give in to its demands.
"In this sorry spectacle of book-burning and book-banning, the Shiv Sena had followed its depressingly familiar history of threats and intimidation that Mumbai has endured since the organisation’s founding in 1966. But it is the expeditious decision by Mumbai University which causes profound dismay," he said.
The Shiv Sena was formed by political cartoonist Bal Thackeray to demand preferential treatment for Mumbai natives over migrants to the city. It operates as a network of street gangs and has a powerful hold over the city’s Bollywood film industry. Thackeray became friends with the late pop star Michael Jackson and once described him as a role model for all Indian youths.