By Itika Singh:
Indians are not strangers to the concept of banned books. Names such as Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasrin and more recently, Wendy Doniger, are known to us as solely in this context. India, despite its claims of being the world’s largest democracy, has a quite extensive list of banned works. However, those suffering from an innate itch to satiate the curiosity that is only heightened when something is forbidden do not need to despair just yet. Here is a list of 5 books that are banned in places around the world, but reading them in India won’t make you a criminal. Not yet anyway.
1. The Da Vinci Code
This Dan Brown best-seller is not only condemned by the Catholic Church but also out-rightly banned in a number of countries like Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan and even in the Indian state of Nagaland. It’s safe to say that the suggestion that Jesus Christ could have fathered a baby with his devout follower Mary Magdalene is not a popular one. Nevertheless, if you haven’t read this book already, read it for Brown’s recurring protagonist Robert Langdon, the fiction-fused history lessons and also to know about secret ancients sects, all this as the main characters travel across France to solve the mystery behind a sensational murder.
2. Mein Kampf
The autobiography of one of the most hated men in history, the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, faces bans or restrictions on publication and distribution in a number of European countries as well as nations like China, Mexico, and Russia. The restrictions have been put up to keep a check on anti-Semitic sentiments even as some German-Jew leaders have themselves asked for the ban to be lifted believing that the key to countering Nazism is exposing it in a free society. You can find Hitler’s stern face peering at you from every book stall in Connaught Place. Reading this controversial autobiography, which was used as a means of propaganda during the Second World War, can give you an insight into the mind of a man held responsible for the deaths of countless Jews.
3. Things Fall Apart
Restricted in Malaysia on grounds of portraying colonialism in a bad light, the book was also banned in West Nigeria in response to political comments made by its author Chinua Achebe. India, though, recognizes this milestone in African writing. It is a part of syllabus for English Honours students in Delhi University, and so, is easily available. The book was featured in Time magazine’s 2005 list of 100 best novels and has been translated into 50 languages. Read this to find out how it brought Nigerian writing to the attention of the world and more interestingly, the fate of its third- world characters.
4. American Psycho
This book by the American author Bret Easton Ellis left audiences shocked and horrified. The main character is portrayed as a banker-by-day and serial-killer by night. Restrictions were put on the book in Germany, which were later lifted in 2005. In Australia, restrictions remain and only individuals above the age of 18 years are allowed to purchase the book. The book can be ordered online in India. This book should be definitely read by fans of crime and psychological thrillers.
5. Freedom from Fear
This is a collection of essays was written by the icon of the pro-democracy campaign in Burma – Aung San Suu Kyi. SheÂ was put under house-arrest for almost 15 years by the military junta government. All of her writings are banned in her native country, but are widely available in India. This book is a perfect recipe for being inspired to bring change.
Though, we still need a visa and a flight ticket to read books like The Satanic Verses or controversial accounts of Mahatma Gandhi’s and Nehru’s lives, efforts such as the ‘Banned Books Week’ are creating more and more awareness about this questionable practice. With this, the irony of banning books in a state that promises freedom of expression is once again occupying centre stage. The line between checking misinformation and misuse of government power must be made clear. Also, states must acknowledge their citizens’ ability to make sound decisions. At the same time, different sets of people in our society need to be more accommodating to views that go against their own.