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Ban on books, UP's caste politics and Sikh pride

columns Updated: Mar 17, 2012 22:48 IST
Khushwant Singh
Khushwant Singh
Hindustan Times
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As soon as I heard Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini had issued a fatwa banning The Satanic Verses and sentenced its author Salman Rushdie to death, I went out of my way to acquire a copy, which I had already read in manuscript form. I advised Penguin Viking not to publish it in India. My behaviour may appear perverse but it was very human! Forbidden fruit always tastes sweeter, and now that The Satanic Verses had been forbidden in India and Muslim countries, it became more readable to the likes of me.

I think home ministry officials who decide on which books should be banned should also meet periodically - at least once a year - to decide which books should have the ban placed on them lifted.

Hasan Saroor, an eminent scholar, has published a long list of books that continue to be banned in India. Among the list are a few I found highly readable and recommended them to my friends. One is Rama Retold by Aubrey Menon. Others included The Lotus and the Robot by Arthur Koestler, Shivaji: The Hindu King in Islamic India by an American Indologist, following the vandalisation of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute. (The Supreme Court lifted the ban a few years later).

As far as I am concerned, no book should be banned in India: it brings a bad name to the country in a freedom-loving world. It should be left to the reader to decide whether or not what he or she has read was, or was not, worth reading. We have a hallowed tradition of what we should be allowed to see and read. If we have free access to erotic sculptures of Khajuraho and Konarak and illustrated copies of the Kama Sutra who has the right to forbid us continue doing so? Unfortunately the numbers of right-wing kattar-panthis (bigots) are on the rise. They must be put in their right place - the waste-paper basket.

Caste-free UP election
Let one evil go and another come
Our greatest achievement is our caste-system.
Subjected to godly sneer, superhuman contempt and humiliation
A whole chunk of population treated as sub-human.
Is the biggest trophy that India has won
We, as a nation,
Which can so easily from its past mistakes learn
Most piously use caste-calculation
To win an election;
And of all the places, it is popular most in UP
The heartland of the country.
Be it SP, Congress, BJP or Mayawati
On the use of caste for vote
They have complete unanimity.
They all swear by a secular polity,
With equality of opportunity for everybody,
They are all interested in the progress of the country
For which the division of the state into a thousand castes and sub-castes
Is an absolute necessity -
May I know on this, especially
The opinion of Mulayam and Mayawati?
(Contributed by Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

Have the last laugh
During vacations some college boys from south India came to Delhi. They rented a taxi for sight-seeing. The driver was an old Sardarji and boys being boys, they began cracking Sardar jokes, just to tease the old man. To their surprise, the old fellow remained unperturbed.

At the end of the sight-seeing tour, they paid the cab hire charges. The Sardar returned the change and he gave each one of them a ten rupee note extra and said, "Sons, since morning you have been telling Sardar jokes. I listened to them all and let me tell you, some of them were in bad taste. Still, I don't mind because I know that you are young and are yet to see the world. But I have one request. I am giving you ten rupees each. Give it to the first Sardar beggar that you come across in this or any other city."

Years later, one of the group of boys recounts, "That ten-rupee note is still with me. I could not find a single Sardar begging anywhere."

Sikhs contribute:
33% of total income tax
67% of total charities
45% of the Indian Army
59,000 plus Gurudwaras serve langar, free of charge, to over 60 lakh people every day!
And all this when Sikhs form only 1.4% of the Indian population.

(Contributed by Vijendra Gupta, New Delhi)

The views expressed by the author are personal.