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Reading books in the 'Right' perspective

Arbitrary objections to books make it vital that freedom of expression must be strictly protected

comment Updated: Jun 05, 2014 01:59 IST

Intolerance, like populism, has a ring of competitiveness to it. Repeated reports of publishers withdrawing books under pressure from a supposedly educational outfit, Shiksha Bachao Andolan, strengthen this view. The body, after having tasted success in taking Wendy Doniger’s book on Hinduism out of circulation, has succeeded in striking at another publication that deals with communal violence in Ahmedabad since 1969. In the second case, the outfit’s lawyer had written to the publisher, Orient Blackswan, complaining about the content of another book titled Plassey to Partition. Sensing that trouble could brew over the book on Ahmedabad also, the publisher thought discretion was the better part of valour and decided to subject it to ‘assessment’. All this proves that events only follow ideas. Just as in policy-making we find political parties trying to outdo one another in taking populist decisions without even considering their consequences, here too there is an eerie remembrance of all that has happened since 1988, right from the time Salman Rushdie’s book was banned, to the boorish protests against MF Husain’s paintings, to the forced withdrawal of Kamal Haasan’s film, etc.

Banning books is not new in India. It started from the time of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, whose Anandamath was proscribed by the British rulers. Some cases of banning were heard after the India-China war of 1962. But in those cases it was always done by a decree of the State. Now it is not always so. Browbeating by some organisations is doing the trick. Not willing to be left out, practitioners of caste politics had their hour of glory when they were able to take a cartoon supposedly derogatory towards BR Ambedkar out of an NCERT textbook. No lesson has been learnt from Jawaharlal Nehru, who asked Shankar why the latter had stopped lampooning him in his cartoons. Had he become unimportant?

The best way to make a book irrelevant is to write another one to show that all that had been written in the first one was false. With the proliferation of book publishers over the past 25 years, this should be the easiest course to take. Chastising publishers and authors is too undemocratic. The new government, which has repeatedly assured us that no one should have anything to fear from it, should show us the path in this respect. Else we shall see intolerance feeding on intolerance.