Banning Books: A Culture of Shutting Down Ideas and Imagination


Have you ever read something that you didn’t like? Something that hurt your beliefs or an idea you didn’t agree with? What did you do with that book? You stopped reading, didn’t you? This is assuming you are a mature human being who understands that not every book is written with a closed mind. Unfortunately, this kind of subjective thinking is condemned. Books are no longer the mitochondria of imagination (for certain individuals). They are weapons of mass destruction.

Malala

This week’s big news was the withdrawal from publication of Wendy Doniger’s book The Hindus: An Alternative History by Penguin India. This was for “hurting religious sentiments”. Now I have not read the book nor had I heard of Wendy Doniger till I read the news. Some reasons why the group calling for its withdrawal, Shiksha Bachao Andolan (translation: Save Education Movement), want it banned can be found here. Personally, I am not offended even though I haven’t read the book because I am not religious. Even if a book did hurt my views I would not want it banned. I certainly don’t agree with the action taken by the publishing house.

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Books are mainly about interpretation. It is always subjective. Look at it as an opinion of the author. It is the vision of an individual. It is the expression of imagination. Some of my favourite books are part of the “banned” wagon. Harry Potter, 1984, Animal Farm, The Catcher in the Rye, The Diary of Anne Frank and many others are banned for absurd reasons. For containing anthropomorphic animals (Alice in Wonderland, Animal Farm), obscenity (Lolita, Brave New World), violence (Of Mice and Men, Lord of the Flies), promoting the occult/witchcraft (Harry Potter series) etc. Authors have been threatened, publishers have been killed and voices have been silenced. All in the name of censorship.

Before we start shunning books and pushing them to the restricted section I would like to ask:

  1. How many people’s sentiments should be hurt for a book to qualify as ban-worthy?
  2. How is obscenity and violence measured?
  3. Which historical figure is exempt from criticism?
  4. Which political figure has a clean slate?
  5. How many sex scenes should a book have to be eligible for a ban?
  6. Should the dictionary be banned because it contains the word ‘sex’ and explains the act?

I am confused. Writers are pools of creativity. They are carriers of ideas and thoughts. It is up to the individual if she/he wants to internalize them. If you do not like it, then don’t read the book else dive into and devour it. Banning is not the solution. It only fuels ignorance. And that is the worst that can happen to an individual. Ignorance harvests hate. Suppressing freedom of expression only leads to degradation of thought.

Have you read any banned book? What did you think about it? Please discuss in the comments below.

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