By Amrita Roy:
So Penguin India has recalled Wendy Doniger’s book, The Hindus: An Alternative History. After fighting a battle for four years, finally the publishing house gave in to the lawsuit of Shiksha Bachao Andolan and agreed to pulp copies of the book. This sets a very dangerous precedent for the practice of freedom of expression in the country. What are Indians going to have to face after this? Will every person with an opinion which isn’t in line with the status quo be closeted? Will a person who is brave to put forth an opinion be criminalized and hunted down?
Decades ago Kurt Vonnegut faced a similar situation when his novel Slaughterhouse Five was banned and even burned in the furnace of a school for his use of coarse language in the novel. In a low-key letter to the school’s administration, Vonnegut stated that it is the “evil deeds and the lying that hurt” the society instead of the language. And the system has been lying to us. Doniger did not write an “evil” book. She was not lying or maligning Hinduism. She is merely putting her point of view across. If anything, she has written a wonderful book that has been widely acclaimed. The regressive laws, lawmakers, law implementers and the patrons of these regressive laws need to realize that allowing citizens of India to read Doniger’s book will not hurt the culture. Instead it will only broaden perspective and let people think in a different way.
But I doubt that is what the law of the country wants. It doesn’t want people to rise up and speak their mind or form educated opinions on issues of importance. It wants people to be spoon-fed with only the information that is sanctioned by them so that status quo is maintained. Dumbing down a billion strong population is the most pathetic and shameful way of trying to remain in power. This is not Stalin’s Russia or Mussolini’s Italy or Kim Jung Il’s North Korea. This is the largest democracy in the world whose freedom of expression is being tampered with. If you want to remain in power then provide people with the outlets to make choices for themselves. Promote the thirst for education by providing access to quality resources. Let the people decide what is right and what is wrong. Give them access to The Hindus: An Alternative History in bookstores. Let the reader decide whether the book is ethical or not.