Before I start anything, I should acknowledge the fact that I stole the title of this blog from an article that one of my friends RS had written on Bans in India. I thought it was a great play on words then, and still think so; and hence the borrowing. With that out of the way, let us begin.
I spotted this article in The Hindu, about the books and related media that the Indian Government has banned and it got me thinking. While growing up in India, I was never aware of the fact that there was anything that I did not have access to. I guess that is the feeling that most North Koreans have as well! The more I learnt about my country, the more I was amazed at the freedom that democracy could provide and I was always of the opinion that my country was extremely liberal, in spite of the multiple religions and Victorian orthodoxy that has lingered on through the ages. It was only when I left the country did I realize that while India is pretty free, it is not as free as one would think.
The amount of freedom, cultural or otherwise, that is granted to its citizens is regulated by what the politicians think a citizen is supposed to do. The press is relatively free, though not completely. A good example of this is the Indian government’s insistence that Kashmir be shown as a part of India and not as a disputed territory. It was as I was perusing The Economist one day that I realized this. The editors of the magazine had taken an excellent route to show the Indian how foolish the government was being. Instead of a map, the location had a blank space with a text that read — we do not think that the Indian citizen should be limited by the government’s stupidity to ban descriptions of the truth. Please visit xyz website for the actual image. (Not verbatim of course).
I think the whole world needs to start acknowledging the fact that immaterial of how much one tries to curtail freedom of expression, one cannot attempt to shut it off. Our genius minister Sibal’s ill-fated attempt to gag the internet is but one example. While there exist countries like North Korea and China that routinely monitor the internet and regulate freedoms as they deem fit, with the progress in technology, the day is not too far when no amount of Big Brother-ing is going to be able to curtail the freedom of expression.
Banning books is the most juvenile act that a mature government can take. Banning books draws attention to them! If someone has something to say, let them say it. If you are offended by it, do not read it. It is as simple as that. (With due regards to Mr. Rushdie for that succinct statement). While authors should express restraint in their writings, it is also the duty of the reader to not read too much into the words and mangle them to mean what the author did not intend in the first place! Taking offense at even the slightest provocation is possibly the most childish reaction that an individual can display, let alone an entire country! So if you want to read some “banned” books, here is a list. I know I have a couple of them on my queue, just to see what is so wrong about them!
Hindu Heaven, Max Wylie (1934); The Face of Mother India, Katherine Mayo (1936); Old Soldier Sahib, Frank Richards (1936); The Land of the Lingam, Arthur Miles, (1937); Mysterious India, Moki Singh (1940); The Scented Garden (Anthropology of the Sex Life in the Levant), Bernhard Stern, translated by David Berger (1945); What has Religion done for Mankind, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society (1955); Rama Retold, Aubrey Menen (1955); Dark Urge, Robert W. Taylor (1955); The Ramayana, Aubrey Menen (1956); Captive Kashmir, Aziz Beg (1958); The Heart of India, Alexander Campbell (1959); The Lotus and the Robot, Arthur Koestler (1960); Nine Hours to Rama, Stanley Wolpert (1962); Unarmed Victory, Bertrand Russell (1963); Nepal, Toni Hagen (1963); Ayesha, Kurt Frishchler, translated by Norman Denny (1963); Lady Chatterley’s Lover, D.H. Lawrence (1964); The Jewel in the Lotus (A Historical Survey of the Sexual Culture of the East), Allen Edwards (1968); The Evolution of the British Empire and Commonwealth from the American Revolution, Alfred Le Ray Burt (1969); A Struggle between Two Lines over the Question of How to Deal with U.S. Imperialism, Fan Asid-Chu (1969);Man from Moscow, Greville Wynne (1970); Early Islam, Desmond Steward (1975); Nehru: A Political Biography, Michael Edwards (1975); India Independent, Charles Bettelheim (1976); China’s Foreign Relations Since 1949, Alan Lawrence (1978); Who killed Gandhi, Lourenco De Sadvandor (1979); Understanding Islam through Hadis, Ram Swarup (1982); Smash and Grab: Annexation of Sikkim, Sunanda Datta-Ray (1984); The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie (1988); Soft Target: How the Indian Intelligence Service Penetrated Canada, Zuhair Kashmeri and Brian McAndrew (1989); The Polyester Prince, Hamish McDonald (1998); The True Furqan, “Al Saffee” and “Al Mahdee” (1999); Islam: A Concept of Political World Invasion, R.V. Bhasin (2007 – Maharashtra); Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India, Joseph Lelyveld (2011 – Gujarat).