Book burning is alive and well…in India. If not burned, then shredded and pulped. This ghastly imagery comes courtesy of hindu right wing groups unable to tolerate Wendy Doniger’s ‘The Hindus: An Alternative History’. Ironically, the organization suing Penguin is called “Shikha Bachao Andolan” – literally meaning “saving education”. Saving it from open minds perhaps.
All cigarette packs have a warning label “Smoking is injurious to health”. Books should come with a similar disclaimer. Something like “Warning: May contain opinions that go against your own. If unable to tolerate, please return to seller now!” This is because reading is a dangerous activity. Those with weak minds are unable to cope with the presentation of ideas that don’t fit in with their worldview. Governments all over the world in the past as well as the present have recognized this. Banning books is the same as banning speech. Banning thought itself.
Books should come with a disclaimer. “Warning: May contain opinions that go against your own. If unable to tolerate, please return to seller now!“
In this case, the news prompted me to download a copy of the freely available ebook myself. And it looks like a lot of people who hadn’t previously heard of it are doing the same. Sorry right wingers. This is the age of the Internet. Knowledge and opinions are too widely dispersed for you to have any success in stemming them.
This particular case didn’t go all the way through the courts. That’s sad because courts are increasingly striking down challenges to free expression and books. Just recently, the SC allowed a nude poster to remain up calling those who challenged it “prudes and prigs and State moralists”. Another salvo, “We do not censor to protect the pervert or to assuage the susceptibilities of the over-sensitive.”
(Ahem, over sensitive. *hint hint* – they’re talking about you “upholders of Indian culture”).
I’m disappointed that Penguin caved in and settled this case, when they would have had a great chance at winning in court, but of course I don’t know all the legal ins and outs of the situation. It’s just something that shouldn’t have happened given the current legal climate in India.
Reading a book is a conscious decision. You can’t “stumble upon it and read it cover to cover” accidentally! Moreover before reading something, most people have a pretty good idea what they’re getting into. The summary at the back, reviews from others, the kind of books it’s surrounded by etc. No one can say it caught them unawares. So the only conclusion is that these self appointed champions of “Indian culture” want to prevent others from reading it. They want to take away the freedom of choice from their fellow citizens just because they didn’t like the book.
Banning a book is the last resort of a person who can’t discredit it based on discussion and facts. The value of an opinion is inversely proportional to the amount of force used to impose it on others. If your point of view has merit, others will take it up on their own. You won’t need to shove it down their throats.
The fact that there are people taking legal action against a book demonstrates the paucity of their intelligence and lack of integrity and respect for others to make up their own minds. Such people should stick to nursery rhymes. But the chances are they’d find even those offensive in some way or the other!