For news-starved TV anchors, Jaswant Singh is proving to be the gift that goes on giving — the latest offering being the charge of plagiarism being leveled against him. Those involved with the book have been ‘unavailable for comment’, so we’ll likely have to wait for the next news cycle for this story to progress.
What however is not getting the required amount of media attention is this petition challenging the decision of the Narendra Modi government to ban Jaswant’s book in Gujarat. The ban itself was ill-considered, knee-jerk, and unconstitutional in the extreme, and deserves to be struck down in court.
The larger point, however, is the total lack of public outrage at this growing tendency of states to ban books on specious grounds. During my hibernation of last week a friend, Nilanjana Roy, did an outstanding blog post on the issue that merits your attention. Nila’s takeaway:
The banning of a book, especially by a particular state, works wonderfully well in practice. It’s much easier to organise a statewide rather than a nationwide ban, and even if the courts overturn the ban a few years later, the political point has been made. It allows politicians to express their willingness to defend a national figure or a religious belief—ignoring the fact that in most cases, that figure or belief is being questioned by the author, not attacked. It keeps the cadres happy, offers fodder for a string of stirring speeches, and is a cheap, easy gesture. The only constituency that is upset is the very narrow band of readers, publishers, and authors. We don’t constitute a vote bank, so our “right” to free speech is effectively irrelevant.
What we do lose with each ban, though, is the right to examine our own history. The bans against Nasreen and Laine had scholars and writers re-examining their work, for fear that they might attract the next ban—or angry mob. Publishing houses should be above the fear of lawsuits, so long as they believe in the author’s honesty and integrity—but many will now avoid anything too controversial. This has a devastating impact on research into the freedom movement, where few will now write about leaders as if they were more than statues on pedestals. And, contrary to what politicians believe, few readers want to read about statues.
Read the post in full [and if you like reading, follow Nila on Twitter — it’s like having a reading guide with you at all times] then ask yourself this: how come such issues don’t seem to exercise the imagination, and the vocal chords, of the Rajdeeps and Arnabs of this world?