Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Unban banned books

Good that Gujarat High Court has reversed the state government's decision on ban on Jaswant’s book on Jinnah [Related Post]. But India has been banning books for a long time. What about the books that have been banned in the past? Who is going to unban them?

So far, more than 54 books have been banned by various Indian governments. India has a bad track record of generously misusing its state powers in taking unilateral decisions to ban books it didn’t like or it didn’t understand. India was the first country in the world to ban Satanic Verses, even before anybody read it, and even before any Islamic country decided to ban it. India bans books, plays and movies at the throw of a hat without debate, discussion or reason. 

India has to grow up. One of the sad outcomes of that growing up is to deal with things that are unpleasant. We have to live with the fact that there are homosexuals and lesbians and they have equal rights, just like you and me. We have to live with the fact that people think differently, behave differently, eat differently and dress differently. They go to different places of worship while some don’t worship at all. Some people write books that you may not want to read but that does not mean you have a right to stop him from writing that book or expressing that opinion. And some people paint things that you don’t understand. 

We don’t need to force people into conform to our set of standards, morals and ethics, our set of religious beliefs, superstitions and rituals, our set of dress codes, and our habits of eating. As a nation we need to grow up to live and let live. 

The high court in its ruling said:

Lack of opinion means lack of thinking; lack of thinking means lack of understanding. The state is dealing with the fundamental rights of its citizens and, therefore, a great amount of caution, prudence and care is expected.

Doesn’t that apply to all the books banned previously? Isn’t it a great time to unban all the books we have banned to show that we have grown by a day?

Here’s a list of banned books as compiled by the source listed above. Note that there are many books related to criticism of Kashmir or Indian foreign policy, sex, criticism of Hinduism, criticism of Shivaji, and even books concerning Gandhi and Nehru. 

• Scented Garden (Anthropology of sex life in the Levant) by Bernhard Stern; translated by David Berger. Banned: August 18, 1945
• Dark Urge by Robert W. Taylor. Banned: Dec 29, 1955
• The Jewel in the Lotus (A Historical Survey of the Sexual Culture of the East). Banned: July 20, 1968
• The Face of Mother India by Katherine Mayo. Banned: January 18, 1936
• Old Soldier Sahib by Private Frank Richards (memoirs of a British soldier serving in India whose book Old Soldiers Never Die has been described as ‘‘probably the best account of the Great War as seen through the eyes of a private soldier.’’) Banned: Aug 22, 1936
• The Heart of India by Alexander Campbell. Banned: March 11, 1959
• The Evolution of the British Empire and Commonwealth from the American Revolution by Alfred Le Ray Burt. Banned: Aug 9, 1969
• A Struggle between Two Lines over the Question of How to Deal with US Imperialism by Fan Asid-Chu, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1965. Banned: Dec 6, 1969
• Behind the Iron Curtain in Kashmir: Neutral Opinion (author not mentioned). Banned: Aug 27, 1949
• American Military Aid to Pakistan (its full implications) by Salahuddin Ahmad. Banned: July 31, 1954
• Captive Kashmir by Aziz Beg. Banned: April 19, 1958
• India Independent by Charles Bettelheim. Banned: May 15, 1976
• Hindu Heaven by Max Wylie. Banned: April 28, 1934
• The Land of the Lingam by Arthur Miles. Banned: Oct 2, 1937
• What Has Religion Done for Mankind, Watch-tower Bible and Tract Society, New York. Banned: Feb 26, 1955
• The Ramayana by Aubrey Menen. Banned: Sept 29, 1956
• Nine Hours to Rama by Stanley Wolpert. Banned: Sept 1, 1962
• Nehru, A Political Biography by Michael Edwards. Banned: Dec 13, 1975
• Who Killed Gandhi by Lourenco De Sadvandor. Banned: Dec 29, 1979

Deny Everything

Nowadays, many countries, many organizations, and many political leaders deny every allegation that is targeting them. Though they take aspersions and insults very seriously all allegations are emphatically denied. When Varun Gandhi made a vitriolic and rabid speech against Muslims of India during the last Lok Sabha elections, Advani and et al of BJP denied everything. If there was a newspaper article giving snippets of his speech, they said it was all fabricated. When a video was shown depicting Varun making that hate speech, they said it was doctored. When multiple videos were shown, they said that there was a big master plan (‘saajish’) behind all this and they intend to find out very soon. Soon the accused, the Hindutva brigade, became the victims of a malicious campaign.

When someone suggested that LK Advani was aware of the Kandahar terrorist exchange, Advani denied everything. When his personal secretary eventually spilled the beans Advani denied it further.

Recently, there was a footage of Sri Lankan soldiers killing capture Tamil Tigers at point blank range. It was eventually denied by Sri Lankan government as a manufactured video by those who wanted to malign their genuine and humane efforts to reform and resettle Tamils. [The video is only for adults and you may not like what you see: Video.]

Ahmadinejad of Iran, Musharraf of Pakistan lie through their teeth, and deny almost every allegation, every report, and every piece of evidence which suggests their culpability. Almost every Indian politician, regardless of his party or creed eventually denies everything that he said in the previous meeting rubbishing the evidence as campaign of malice from the opposing parties. Indian authorities categorically deny everything when a report suggests it is has not been the best at protecting human rights of its citizens. It also denies blatantly any report that suggests India has very high number of AIDS patients.

Most mature countries and civilized societies ensure that such denials are not done ad nauseam. Eventually, someone has to take credit for what has happened. To ensure one does not deny something indefinitely these countries and societies make sure they don’t resort to fabrication, lying and cheating. This will allow them to question other countries and themselves when someone has to take the blame.

However, when one such country, which is considered a super power and which swaggers around as moral authority, resorts to hoodwinking, the whole credibility factor goes down the drain. The biggest lie of the second half of century was made by Bush Administration when Colin Powell walked to the center stage of UN and splashed pictures of Iraq showing movement of nuclear weapons and arsenal. That lie was used to wage a war against a population against their will, killing them, subjugating them, and throwing them into a brutal civil war. There were no nuclear weapons in Iraq, that’s what we found after the war.

When US can resort to such blatant fabrication, can’t we all do the same? And since any evidence can be fabricated, why not deny all evidence?

A day ago, India accused China of making incursions into India’s territory. Of course China denied everything. They said everything was a lie. There was no truth to these allegations they said. One Indian TV news channel reporting the news showed clips of movement of troops and helicopters. An average viewer would think that it was actual footage of Chinese incursions into India and would even assume that it is incontrovertible evidence. However, upon closer inspection you realize that in first footage the helicopters belong to Indian Army and in second footage they were actually American soldiers. Therefore, the whole video they were showing was spurious. I move to the next channel and here the video was very different. It showed tanks and armored cars moving in. Did Chinese come on foot, by helicopter or by tanks? I was not sure anymore. In the end I was not even sure if Chinese really came into Indian territories. And if we are trying to make a case by showing fake videos, we better be ready when Chinese deny everything. Even I would be one of those who would suspect such news in future.

It comes back to one’s credibility. If you create a society where everyone is faking it, you don’t know what is genuine. Like in a road side bazaar in a tourist place – you have no idea if it is fake or genuine, and hence you assume everything is a bauble.

That’s where we get our strength to deny everything. There is enough number of people ready to believe you when you deny everything because they know of an instance where evidence was fabricated. When media, governments, and political leaders, who we entrust with power and accountability, lie through their teeth you don’t know what is true and what is hoax anymore.

May be Sri Lankan soldiers were real nice to Tamil Tigers after all. May be there is no global warming after all. May be China never invaded India in 1962 after all. We can deny everything.