Books and Censorship

At what point do we draw the line? We all have heard of author Salman Rushdie who was stabbed earlier this month in New York. In the late 80s, he wrote a book The Satanic Verses which many believed was a satire on the Quran, holy book for Muslims. Quran is believed to be the word of God as revealed to Prophet Muhammad by archangel Gabriel. 

Since it was a satire on the holy book for Muslims, widespread protests erupted and India was the first country to ban the book in 1989. A fatwa was also issued on Rushdie’s name by the Ayatollah of Iran calling for his beheading over blasphemy and well, over three decades later, he was stabbed multiple times. While, thankfully, Rushdie survives, the core at this controversy is the banning of books. 

In fact, the very first book that was banned in India was Rangeela Rasul back in 1924 in British India. The book, written in Urdu, many believed was a take on life of Prophet Muhammad and his relationship with women in his life. However, the publisher back then was charged for hate speech and in April 1926 he was murdered. His murderer, Ilm Ud-din, was hailed and a mazar still exists in Pakistan and his lawyer was none other than Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. 

In fact, most books that are banned in India are because they ‘mocked Islam’ or ‘were blasphemous’. In 1991, Ram Swarup’s book ‘Understanding Islam through Hadis’ was banned because it was critical of political Islam. It is a study of Islam. While Quran is the revelation of God to Prophet Muhammad, Hadis (or Hadith) is record of what the Prophet did, approve and disapprove of through various narratives. Many Muslims believe Hadiths give direction on the way of life. The book, however, was banned in India.

Here I would like to make a point clear that there is a difference between State censorship and people boycotting a product. While former is something that should not be done as the State should not be dictating our choices the latter, even though I think boycotting products also counterproductive because many times boycotting just does the reverse of what it is intended. However, boycotting is a democratic process and form of protest, whether we agree on it or not. In short, books banned by State is not the same as books being boycotted by people at large. 

Should we really be this sensitive that a written word can offend us so much that we demand it be banned so no one can read? Let readers decide – if the product is good, it will find its audience. If a book is well written, it will find its reader. In the digital age, banning book makes no sense as it will find a way to be on the Internet and once it is out there it is there forever. Nothing really should be beyond criticism. Our faiths should not be so fragile that a book can insult, break it. Don’t like it, don’t read it, or better, write a book that counters what you’ve not written. That way, there will be more to read. 

Let knowledge flow from all sides and trust human intelligence that they will absorb what is good. 


Nirwa Mehta is the Editor of online news and media ports, She writes on politics and media and aspires to write a best-selling book someday. She divides her time between Ahmedabad and Delhi.

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