Friday, August 21, 2009

Gujarat bans Jaswant’s book on Jinnah

Narendra Modi’s government of Gujarat has banned Jaswant’s book, Jinnah - India, Partition, Independence, because it believes that the book shows Sardar Vallabhai Patel in poor light. 

A notification issued by the Gujarat home department on Wednesday banned the book on the grounds that it tarnishes the image of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel.

"The book aims to tarnish the image of the architect of the country's unification and son of Gujarat. The state government has decided to ban the book in public interest," says a press release issued by the state government. 

When will we grow mature as a nation? We are already 62 years old but behave like a cry baby. Why do we get offended by anything anyone says? And why do we think we need to ban books at the first sign of hurt feelings?

We have been banning stuff indiscriminately and irresponsibly without even having a debate about it. India was the first country in the world to ban Satanic Verses – even the Muslim countries took some time. Many more books, including book detailing 1984 anti-Sikh riots, two books on Shivaji that purportedly showed the great leader of Maraths in negative light, many movies and plays are all banned at the slightest hint of hurt feelings. 

We need to ask ourselves if we are becoming a mature nation or an immature one. Should a government ban anything at all on its own, especially when it infringes upon the rights of common man? As a democracy, shouldn’t we have a debate about it, or pass a resolution in assembly or parliament, or allow courts to decide such issues, instead of elected leader taking unilateral decisions on behalf of entire government and people? 

What should be the right way of banning a book? 

First of all, banning books should be the last thing we should resort to. Books are not billboards that a person would look at involuntarily. Someone would read a book only because he wants to, it cannot be forced upon, and it would never be inadvertent either. An Indian citizen should be allowed to choose any book he wants to read. No government should think it is protecting its citizens from reading wrong stuff. 

Second, if a book has to be banned for some serious reason then we need to have an agreed method of doing it. Say, a person X is portrayed negatively by an author alleging that this X has done certain bad stuff. The person X can take that author to court if X thinks they are just lies. The court can then judge where these allegations are baseless, hypothetical, or based in evidence. Even if the content is found offensive, there are enough laws already in place to deal with such offensive writing. The court could compensate the person X with money, prosecute or fine the author, command that author to delete certain portions, or in the worst case ban the book completely.

But should an elected leader be given the unbridled powers to override the most fundamental right of all – the freedom of expression? 

Jaswant Singh rightly said:

The day we start banning books, we are banning thinking.