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Home / Books / Books and art: 5 victims of India's gag culture

Books and art: 5 victims of India's gag culture

After Wendy Doniger's book The Hindus: An Alternate History was recalled by Penguin under pressure from a fringe group, we revisit authors and artists who faced the anger of the extremists right wing and had their works banned in India.

books Updated: Feb 12, 2014, 19:29 IST

After the news of withdrawal and pulping of Wendy Doniger's The Hindus: An Alternate History appeared in media, reaction on the social networking sites were, in a way, a microcosm of how Indian opinion works. While many decried the decision and called it "atrocious" and "deeply disappointing", some fringe extremist Hindu groups began a campaign against Doniger. They were shrill and shouted others down.

Something similar happens in real life. The fringe right wingers make a lot of noise, shout others down and get books and art banned. Five authors/artists who were the victim of this culture.

Wendy Doniger

Bowing to a legal challenge from a Hindu extremist outfit, Penguin Books India has agreed to recall and pulp all copies of American scholar Wendy Doniger's book The Hindus: An Alternative History.

The organisation, Shiksha Bachao Andolan Committee, had filed a civil suit and two criminal complaints. It had dubbed the book "disrespectful of Hinduism". Wendy Doniger is a prominent Indologist based at the University of Chicago.

MF Hussain

Arguably the most famous face of Indian art, MF Hussain was hounded out of India and forced to spend his last years in exile after his paintings of Indian deities and Bharat Mata in nude attracted right wingers' ire. His exhibitions were picketed and attacked and he left India for Qatar in 2006, never to return again.

Rohinton Mistry

Mistry's award-winning book, Such a Long Journey -- published in 1991 -- is set in India in the 1970s. It describes the life and loves of a bank clerk from Mumbai's Parsee community against a background of political unrest. It attracted Shiv Sena's displeasure in 2010 for painting it in a "derogatory" light. Aditya Thackeray, Bal Thackeray's grandson, protested against the novel to the vice chancellor of the University of Mumbai, who had it removed from the syllabus. Mistry later decried the "sorry spectacle of book-burning and book-banning".

James Laine

The American author and professor of religious studies landed in the cross-hairs of India's right wing for his book Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India. Published in 2003, the book was targeted for alleged 'derogatory' references to the Maratha king.

In 2004, saffron fringe groups vandalised Pune's Bhandarkar Institute in protest, which was soon joined by Shiv Sena.

The government banned the book on the grounds that it could lead to communal tension. The Bombay high court lifted the ban and the Supreme Court upheld the decision. The book, however, is still not easily available in India.

Aubrey Menen

An Irish-Indian satirist, Aubrey Menen retold the epic Ramayana in an irreverent fashion in 1956. The book, Rama Retold, ruffled many feathers and was banned by the government for "offending religious sensitivities". Later, The Collected Essays of A.K. Ramanujan and Paula Richman's Many Ramayanas: The Diversity of a Narrative Tradition in South Asia featuring Ramanujan's work were both dropped by the Delhi University from its curriculum.

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