If you have to resort to banning a book, you've already lost. If you're the kind of person who wants to shut down someone else's freedom of expression, then Tom and Jerry cartoons are the only safe medium for you.

If you have to resort to banning a book, you've already lost. If you're the kind of person who wants to shut down someone else's freedom of expression, then Tom and Jerry cartoons are the only safe medium for you.

If you Can’t Tolerate Books, Stick to Nursery Rhymes

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!

Comments

  1. Clueless says:

    The irony is that the only reason I know about this book is because it is being burnt. And if I read the book, it will be only to know why it was burnt.

    I hope one day, people will realize the difference between being offended and being a victim.

    • bhagwad says:

      Spot on. People are conflating the two depressingly often these days.

    • “The irony is that the only reason I know about this book is because it is being burnt. And if I read the book, it will be only to know why it was burnt.”
      Bingo! The morning I read in the papers that it was banned, I rushed to a bookstore to buy a copy. I couldn’t trust to send anyone else, in case they refuse AND couldn’t trust ordering online, in case they receive the news and decide not to ship it.
       
      Coming to the topic, I don’t think banning artistic freedom is a specifically Indian thing. Try for example, buying a copy of Mein Kampf in Germany. Intolerance runs in the thread that holds humanity together.

  2. RenKiss says:

    This is one of those situations where it would simply be easier to ignore the books. If you don’t agree with it, it’s not fair to simply try to ban it. Besides, I guess these folks haven’t realized the more you try to ban something or burn it, it’s just going to make people want to read it more.

  3. Aturma says:

    As a matter of fact I find nursery rhymes quite morbid, and don’t understand why these falling and dying songs became children’s rhymes!!

    But on a more serious note, I find this banning books business completely stupid and childish.
    And as you have rightly pointed out, i downloaded a copy too, of a book that I probably would not have read otherwise.

    This makes me wonder how these people are so sensitive about these non issues and don’t really speak up/ act against the real ones??

  4. simple girl says:

    such crap we have to tolerate.. see the man is 84 and the enthusiasm he has for such stupid things… It is high time he should be a hermit and retire …

  5. Vidyut says:

    Would i read a book called “The Hindus”? Not. A. Chance. Would I read a book zealots wanted to silence? Damn right I would.

    Streisand effect ;)

  6. “If you have to resort to banning a book, you’ve already lost.” #quote http://t.co/Y9VCj0ZV3d

  7. Satish says:

    “Oh Harry, don’t you see? If she could have done one thing to make sure every single person in this school will read your interview, it was banning it!”

    I agree with Vidyut, Clueless and others. I wasn’t even aware of this book’s existence until this incident. Now I have it on my kindle.

    Wendy Doniger’s take on the incident in NY Times today.
    http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/06/opinion/banned-in-bangalore.html

    While the state of freedom of expression in our country is deplorable, it’s good that this ban actually helped in increasing her sales of this book.

    To quote Wodehouse “Just as all American publishers hope that if they are good and lead upright lives, their books will be banned in Boston, so do all English publishers pray that theirs will be denounced from the pulpit by a good bishop. Full statistics are not to hand, but it is estimated by competent judges, that a good bishop, denouncing a book from the pulpit with the right organ note in his voice, can add between ten and fifteen thousand to the sales.”

  8. I hate you. Die in a fire, paki scum. I want to mash your testicles into a paste, mix it with some babaghanoush inside of my butthole and shit it into your mouth. You look like a goat, just like your mother and father.

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