Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Why Ban A Book?

Does anyone care about education in India? Shiksha Bachao Andolon ('Save Education Movement') has just managed to get a book pulped - a cultural history of the Hindus written by American academic Wendy Doniger - because it 'contained factual inaccuracies'. It does not indeed matter that this was on sale since 2009, and sold well. The education of India has just been saved.

Somehow, I have been preparing for book burnings in India soon and here is a good start. Indeed, there are lots of tweets mourning the passing of the book, and pointing to the fact that there are lots of people banning lots of different books in India. The most famous being Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses, which was presumed to have injured Muslim sentiments. But so is V K Naipaul's An Area of Darkness, for its critical portrayal of Indians. Salman Rushdie's other book, The Moor's Last Sigh, was also briefly banned for alleged likeness of one of the characters with Shiv Sena supremo late Bal Thackeray, though Supreme Court overturned the ban. Besides, there are a number of books with cold war legacy, including Seymour Hersh's The Price of Power, which alleged that ex-Indian Premier, the late Morarji Desai, was a CIA informant. And, Da Vinci Code remains banned in Nagaland for its unsavoury portrayal of Jesus.

But then there are others, like The Hindus, which were not formally banned, but was challenged and put out of print. The most famous example is certainly The Polyester Prince, Dhirubhai Ambani's biography by Australian journalist Hamish McDonald which was never printed in the fear of the Ambani families. Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro's It's Five Past Midnight in Bhopal was gagged temporarily by Swaraj Puri, who was the then Police Commissioner of Bhopal, though the ban was overturned later. Akhil Bharat Vidyarthi Parishad, the student wing of the Hindu Chauvinist BJP, tried to ban The Collected Essays of A K Ramanujan, and eventually cowered the publisher into dropping the book, for including an essay in which the famous scholar chronicled various alternate versions of Ramayana, a Hindu epic. Add to the fact that business people, such as Arindam Chaudhuri, an Indian entrepreneur who owns Indian Institute of Planning and Management, an unaccredited business school charging top dollar but giving out degrees not recognised anywhere else, keep suing any journalist who dare to attempt any expose and mostly secure bans or injunctions on publications (See this news and the Article), one gets the sense of the censorship environment in the World's most populous democracy.

As with other things, this shows how touchy the Indians are. Also, the Internet is yet to disrupt the Indian reading habits fully and therefore, banning a book does not have the 'Streisand Effect' it would usually have in the West. But surely online reading habits are as common as anywhere among the Generation Y, those who went to school in the 90s and after, and the elite and the fundamentalists, suppressing opinions at will, may now need to wake up to the futility of it, at least for those who read things online.

And, that would be good. On subjects like this, the final word still goes to Milton (1644): "as good almost kill a Man as kill a good Book; who kills a Man kills a reasonable creature, Gods Image; but hee who destroyes a good Booke, kills reason it selfe, kills the Image of God, as it were in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the Earth; but a good Booke is the pretious life-blood of a master spirit, imbalm'd and treasur'd up on purpose to a life beyond life."

So, let Truth and Falsehood grapple: Whoever knew the truth put to the war, in a free and open encounter. 

2 comments:

Neha Gupta said...

Well, we like to live in denial, murder the truth, be unreasonable and then bury our heads in the sand. We are legendary !

Supriyo Chaudhuri said...

I had to say this: This is a beautiful, almost French :) comment. You are right too: We behave like adolescents, insecure, patronising, unsure, touchy. We fear the truth and openness, lest it expose us to ourselves.

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