Every once in a while, our 24×7 news channels manage to come up with a half decent show worthy of being watched. The last edition of The Big Fight We The People was one, the topic of discussion was ‘Book Banners’, where the rights and wrongs of banning books were analyzed by a group of authors, lawyers and politicians. The authors and lawyers made some cogent arguments on why banning was wrong. The politicians talked like they had sugically replaced their brains with fish droppings.
Came to know some surprising/shocking bits of information. For example, Alice in Wonderland is banned in China for the absurd reason that the book “puts animals and human beings on the same level”(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alice%27s_Adventures_in_Wonderland#Criticism). For the shocking part, here’s a couple. The RSS handbook(or manual or whatever) holds Christians responsible for the partition of India. Textbooks in Gujarat hold Muslims, Christians and Parsis as foreigners. I wish i can do more than just hang my head in shame.
Aside these, what was more disturbing and distressing was the line of thinking of our politicians. The congress representative in the show, whose name i dont remember, tried his best to steer the topic away from the issue of censorship to effectively policing the internet, and rambled on about how we are incapable of knowing what our kids are watching. Seriously, pornography and copyright violation is what he was concerned about and stayed as equivocal as possible about banning books. Jayanarayan Vyas, a guy from Modi government made the most depressing comment about why Jaswant Singh’s book was rightly banned. According to him, our society holds certain values close to our heart, and anything that is not acceptable to a large section of the society will be banned. Clearly, he hasnt heard of Socrates, Galileo, Darwin, Turing etc. And then there was this Saleem or Siddique guy(dont know which party he represents) who was supposedly instrumental in banning Satanic Verses, he said the reason why that book(satanic verses) was banned was that Prophet was maligned with 4 lettered hindi words(BC,MC are 4 lettered?), and that Hindus and Christians would have done the same had it been rama or jesus. For you sir, here is a must watch clip from Monty Python.
I think banning books is the starting point of banning thought. We are slowly reaching a point of intolerance like the one captured in (Ray Bradbury’s) Fahrenheit 451. We are marching to a place where each of us will strongly affiliate ourselves to one or more groups and weakly to several. As a consequence every piece of opinion will turn unacceptable to some of us. And banning one will be reason enough to ban all and in turn ban reason. It sounds hyperbolic, but never underestimate the power of human stupidity.
Edit: Got the name of the program wrong