Book censorship is not a new phenomenon – books have been banned and burnt for centuries. In a multicultural country like India, it is difficult to maintain perfect stability, especially when it comes to religion.
Far too often, religion seeps into public life, into politics and literature, instigating waves of discord that manifest themselves through public demonstrations and litigation.
On a fundamental level, censorship of books displays a blatant disregard for pluralism, and an overwhelming eagerness to tear down new ideas.
While it is certainly the government’s prerogative, too often, the law is taken in the hands by outraged citizens!
As the spate of book banning continues in India, here are some of the most controversial banned books in India in the recent past –
An Area of Darkness – V.S. Naipaul
The first book in Naipaul’s trilogy on India – ‘An Area of Darkness’ was published in 1964. It is a semi-autobiographical account of the year he spent travelling in India.
The style of the book is quintessentially Naipaul – unsentimental, unflinching – he writes with a coldness of a surgeon’s knife. It features Naipaul’s strikingly original responses to India’s paralyzing caste system, its apparently serene acceptance of poverty and squalor, and the conflict between its desire for self-determination and its nostalgia for the British raj.
Obviously, the dark tone of the book did not please the Indian tourism board. Criticised for its portrayal of India as a helpless, hopeless place, the book was banned in India.
The Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie
The Satanic Verses
Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’ is considered the most controversial book ever, which got him immense notoriety as a writer and also a few death threats.
There was a rash of protests around the world following its publication in 1988. Books and effigies of the writer were burnt. India was the first country to ban the book – other countries soon followed suit.
The book is about two Indian expatriates, now living in England, are on an airplane when it is exploded by terrorists.
They survive the explosion and the fall, but after landing their lives change. The garish obnoxious one, gains a halo, becoming the arch-angel Gabreel and the prim and proper other one becomes the devil.
The devil’s story is his reintroduction into society and the angel’s story is through his dreams, who he inspires the prophet Mohammad. Everything culminates into a showdown between these two entities.
Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India – James Laine
Shivaji-Hindu King in Islamic India
When this biographical book on the Maratha King Shivaji was published in 2003, nobody could have anticipated the public ire that it drew. James Laine, a highly respected scholar, had done some of his research for the book in Bhandarkar Institute of Oriental Research, Pune.
While a ban was imposed on the book in Maharashtra, angry mobs ransacked the institute, destroyed many precious manuscripts in the process. James Laine traces the origin and development of the Shivaji legend from the earliest sources to the contemporary accounts of the tale.
His primary concern was to discover the meaning of Shivaji’s life for those who have composed the legendary accounts of his military victories, his daring escapes, his relationships with saints.
In the process, he painted a complex picture of Hindu-Muslim relations from the seventeenth century to the present.
Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence – Jaswant Singh
Jinnah, India, Partition, Independence
Eyebrows were raised when Jaswant Singh, a prominent member of the BJP came out with a book on Jinnah in 2009. Like its heavy title, the book was pronounced to have suitable scholarly merit.
Instead of being a tendentious tome, it was a well-researched, perspicuous book. However, the Gujarat government banned the book and Jaswant Singh was unceremoniously expelled from his party.
The partition of India in 1947, has been the most wounding trauma of the twentieth century. Why did this partition take place at all?
Jaswant Singh attempts to find an answer. He studies Jinnah’s political journey beginning as ‘an ambassador of Hindu-Muslim Unity’ and ended up with his becoming the ‘sole spokesman’ of Muslims in India.
The book attempts an objective evaluation of Jinnah’s transformation.
Such A Long Journey – Rohinton Mistry
‘Such a long journey’ is a highly acclaimed novel by Rohinton Mistry. It has won many awards like The Commonwealth Writers Prize, Governor General’s award, and was also shortlisted for the prestigious Booker prize.
It follows the family life of a Parsi protagonist in the tumultuous decade of 1970, under the rule of Indira Gandhi. Shiv Sena objected to the ‘derogatory’ remarks made against its leader in the book. The issue was fiercely debated on public forums and within academic circles after the University of Mumbai withdrew the book from its syllabus.
Rohinton Mistry later issued a public statement, expressing his disappointment about the withdrawal.
Polyester Prince: The Rise of Dhirubhai Ambani – Hamish McDonald
Polyester Prince-The Rise of Dhirubhai Ambani
‘Polyester Prince’, the unofficial biography of Dhirubhai Ambani, which could have been one of the polemical biographies of the decade, never saw the light of the day.
Harper Collins, the publisher anticipated legal action from the Ambani family and pulled the plug before the book could go into print. The book comments on length on the concept of power, and gives a riveting account of Ambani’s meteoric rise, his hits and misses and his successors.
The book, though unavailable in India, can be found and read on the web. Pirated copies of the book are also commonplace.
It was five past midnight in Bhopal – Dominique Lapierre and Javier Moro
It was five past midnight in Bhopal
‘It was five past midnight in Bhopal’ is a novel based on one of the greatest disasters in the recent times – the Bhopal gas tragedy, which killed thousands of people and left lakhs injured.
Instead of being a dry, prosaic account, the book is a tribute to the resilience of the human spirit, a chronicle of human survival against all odds.
The book was banned after Swaraj Puri, the commissioner of Bhopal during that period, filed a defamation suit. Later, the ban was lifted by the Madhya Pradesh high court.
List of more books banned in India
This is a list of books or any specific textual material that have been or are banned in India or parts of India.
This section lists books that are banned or once faced a nationwide ban in India (including in British India).
Date –Work- Author-Notes– 1924 Rangila Rasul Pandit M. A. Chamupati or Krishan Prashaad Prataab.In May 1924, this Urdu booklet was published in Lahore. The booklet purportedly described Prophet Muhammad‘s relationship with women. The publisher, Raj Pal, was charged under 153A of the Indian Penal Code for hate speech by the Punjab government. The final disposition came in May 1927. The court declared that law does not prohibit satirical writings about the deceased and the publisher was acquitted with a warning. On 6 April 1929, the publisher was murdered. The murderer, a Muslim youth named Ilm-ud-din, was sentenced to death and the sentenced was carried out on 31 October 1929. Ilm-ud-din’s defence lawyer was Muhammad Ali Jinnah. Heaven Max WylieIt cannot be brought into India. Max Wylie, the creator The Flying Nun TV show, researched this book while teaching in Lahore. The novel questioned the work of American missionaries in India. It also dealt with the harsh effects of the climate on the missionaries.1933AngarayVariousThis collection of stories by Sajjad Zaheer, Ahmed Ali, Rashid Jahan and Mahmud-uz-Zafar was published in 1932. It drew protests from Muslim religious leaders. In 1933, it was banned by the British colonial government.1936The Face of Mother IndiaKatherine MayoIt cannot be imported into India. This illustrated book was famously called “the report of a drain inspector” by Mahatma Gandhi.1936Old Soldier SahibFrank RichardsThe book cannot be imported into India. The book is a memoir of the author’s time in British India as a veteran soldier.1937The Land of the LingamArthur MilesIt cannot be imported into India. The book is about Hinduism, caste and phallicism.1940Mysterious IndiaMoki SinghThe book cannot be imported into India. The book purportedly contained stereotypes.1945The Scented Garden: Anthropology of the Sex Life in the LevantBernhard SternThis book cannot be imported into India. This is a book about sexual practices and marriage rites of the people of Middle East (Levant). The book was allegedly sexually explicit.1950Pakistan-Pasmanzarwa PeshmanzarHameed AnwarThis book, originally in Urdu, cannot be imported into India.1950Cease-FireAgha BabarThis book, originally in Urdu, cannot be imported into India.1950Khaak aur KhoonNusseim HajaziThis book, originally in Urdu, cannot be imported into India.1952ChadramohiniThis book, originally in Urdu, cannot be imported into India.1952Marka-e-SomnathMaulana Muhammad Sadiq Hussain Sahab Sadiq Siddiqui SardanviThis book, originally in Urdu, is a Pakistani treatise on Somnath and it cannot be imported into India.1954Bhupat SinghKaluwank RavatwankThis book, originally in Gujarati, cannot be imported into India.1954What has Religion done for MankindThis book cannot be imported into India. This is a book published by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. This book tries to refute Eastern religions.1955Rama RetoldAubrey MenenThis book cannot be imported into India. It was a play which was a spoof of the Ramayana. It was one of the first books to be banned in independent India. The American edition was simply called The Ramayana.1955Dark UrgeRobert W. TaylorThis book cannot be imported into India.1958Captive Kashmir: Story of a Betrayed and Enslaved PeopleAziz BegThis book is highly critical of India’s stand on Kashmir. This book cannot be imported into India.1959The Heart of IndiaAlexander CampbellThis book cannot be imported into India. Alexander Campbell was Time magazine‘s New Delhi correspondent. The book is a fictionalized and humorous account of Indian bureaucracy and economic policies.1960The Lotus and the RobotArthur KoestlerThis book contains the author’s experiences in India and Japan. The book was highly critical of the cultures of both nations. The book was banned for its negative portrayal of Gandhi.1962Nine Hours to RamaStanley WolpertThis book cannot be imported into India. The book and the movie based on it, both were banned in India. The book was thought to be justifying the actions of Nathuram Godse who murdered Gandhi. The book also points to the lapse in security.1963NepalToni HagenThis book cannot be imported into India.1963AyeshaKurt FrischlerThis book is alleged to hurt Muslim sentiments. This book cannot be imported into India. The original German title was Aischa: Mohammed’s Lieblingfrau (Aischa: Mohammed’s Favorite Wife).1963Unarmed VictoryBertrand RussellThe book dealt with the Sino-Indian War which India lost.1964An Area of DarknessV. S. NaipaulBanned for its negative portrayal of India and its people.1968The Jewel in the LotusAllen EdwardesThis book cannot be imported into India.Allen Edwardes was the pen-name of a scholar who wrote on Middle East and Oriental erotica.1969The Evolution of the British Empire and Commonwealth from the American RevolutionAlfred LeRoy BurtThis book cannot be imported into India.1969A Struggle between two lines over the question of How to Deal with U.S. ImperialismHsiu-chu FanThis book cannot be imported into India.1970Man from MoscowGreville WynneThis book cannot be imported into India. Greville Wynne was a courier for the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6). The book is about his involvement with Oleg Penkovsky. The book was banned for purportedly misrepresenting Indian policies.1975Early IslamDesmond StewartThis book cannot be imported into India. The book purportedly contained grievous factual errors.1975Nehru: A Political BiographyMichael EdwardesThis book cannot be imported into India. The book purportedly contained grievous factual errors.1976Freedom at MidnightLarry Collins Dominique LapierreGopal Godse said he would sue the authors in the Bombay courts for “falsely” quoting him that he gave the “slanderous” information of Veer Savarkar having homosexual relations with Nathuram Godse. He challenged Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre, the authors, to “produce any evidence, written or tape-recorded”, to substantiate their version. The authors’ claim was altogether “false” and their assertion “defamatory and lascivious”. He said that necessary steps were underway against the authors for “false, defamatory and libellous allegations” This Book allowed to republish after the said changes./>1976India IndependentCharles BettelheimThis book cannot be imported into India. It was banned for criticising the policies of the Indian government.1978China’s Foreign Relations Since 1949Alan LawrenceThis book cannot be imported into India.1979Who killed GandhiLourenço de SalvadorThis book cannot be imported into India. The book was considered inflammatory and ill-researched.1983The Price of Power: Kissinger and Nixon in the White HouseSeymour HershBriefly banned for alleging Morarji Desai to be a CIA informer. The book claimed that Morarji Desai was paid 20,000 USD per year, starting from the time of Lyndon B. Johnson. Desai obtained an injunction from the Bombay High Court for a temporary ban and sued for damages worth US$5 million in US.1984Smash and Grab: Annexation of SikkimSunanda K. Datta-RayThe book dealt with India’s annexation of Sikkim. The Delhi High Court had stopped its publication after a political officer station in Gangtok at the time filed a defamation suit. The book was later allowed for release.1988The Satanic VersesSalman RushdieThis book cannot be imported into India. Import ban was imposed after Muslim groups protested that it was blasphemous and hurt their religious sentiments. India was the first country to ban this book.1989Soft Target: How the Indian Intelligence Service Penetrated CanadaZuhair Kashmeri
Brian McAndrewThe book claims that the Indian intelligence agencies penetrated the Canadian Sikh community, Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS) to discredit the demand for a separate Sikh state.1991Understanding Islam through HadisRam SwarupThe book, originally published in 1982, was banned for its critique of political Islam.2005The True FurqanAl Saffee, Al MahdeeBanned for purportedly mocking Islam. The book has been allegedly written by a Christian evangelical group to proselytise Muslims. The import of this book is strictly prohibited.2014Santsurya Tukaram
Loksakha DnyaneshwarAnand YadavA Pune court ordered the copies of the books to be destroyed in June 2014. The complaint Jaisingh More had claimed that the book was derogatory to Tukaram and Dnyaneshwar. The publishers defended the book and the author’s daughter stated that they will appeal in a higher court.
This section lists books that were banned by a state government. The Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973 allows the state governments to declare any publication as forfeit.DateWorkAuthorState(s)Notes1944Satyarth PrakashDayananda SaraswatiSindhSatyartha Prakash was banned in some princely states and in Sindh in 1944 and is still banned in Sindh. In 2008 two Indian Muslims, Usman Ghani and Mohammad Khalil Khan of Sadar Bazar, Delhi, following the fatwa of Mufti Mukarram Ahmed, the Imam of Fatehpuri Masjid in Delhi, urged the Delhi High Court to ban Satyarth Prakash. However, the court dismissed the petition and commented “A suit by Hindus against the Quran or by Muslims against Gita or Satyarth Prakash claiming relief… are in fact, meant to play mischief in the society.”1969Ramayana: A True ReadingPeriyar E. V. RamasamyUttar PradeshThe Hindi version of the book, Sachchi Ramayana, was banned by the state government and all copies were seized in December 1969. The publisher challenged the decision in the Allahabad High Court. The court nullified the ban and asked the government to return all copies to the publisher. The state government challenged the High Court in the Supreme Court. On 16 September 1976, Supreme Court declared the ban to be illegal. However, the government ignored the court decisions and managed to stop sales of the book, until 1995. In 1995, after the political party Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) came to power, the book was widely published for the Periyar mela held in September 1995.2001Bhavsagar GranthFollowers of Baba BhaniaraPunjabBanned by Parkash Singh Badal-led Punjab government in 2001 for allegedly insulting the Sikh faith. The state arrested the people who were found in possession of the book, and confiscated its copies. In November 2008, the Supreme Court of India overturned the ban, stating that the Punjab government was allowed to issue a fresh ban, if needed. The Punjab Government then banned the book on 15 December 2008.2003DwikhanditoTaslima NasrinWest BengalThe CPI(M) government banned the book on 28 November 2003 fearing that book could incite communal discord. In November 2003, the Calcutta High Court put out an injunction against publication after a poet, Syed Hasmat Jalal, filed an 110 million INR defamation suit. On 22 September 2005, the court lifted the ban.2004Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic IndiaJames LaineMaharashtraOn January 2004, a mob alleging disparaging remarks made about Shivaji attacked Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute where Laine had researched the book. Several rare manuscripts were destroyed in the process. On 14 January, the state government run by the Congress Party under Sushil Kumar Shinde banned the book. In 2007, the Bombay High Court revoked the ban. The state government challenged the decision in the Supreme Court. Supreme Court upheld the previous decision and lifted the ban in 2010.2006The Epic of Shivaji: A Translation and Study of Kavindra Paramananda’s SivabharataJames LaineMaharashtraThe book was banned for allegedly containing derogatory references on grounds that it could cause a law and order problem.2006The Da Vinci CodeDan BrownNagalandThe book was banned by the government for allegedly containing blasphemous remarks about Jesus.2007Islam: A Concept of Political World InvasionR. V. BhasinMaharashtraThe book was released in 2003. It was banned by the Congress government in 2007 ground that it contained derogatory remarks about Islam and Prophet Mohammad. In 2010, Bombay High Court upheld the ban. The decision was challenged in the Supreme Court but it rejected the appeal.2009Jinnah: India, Partition, IndependenceJaswant SinghGujaratBanned in Gujarat but overturned. The book was on banned on 19 August 2009, for containing defamatory references to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Jaswant Singh was also expelled from his political party, BJP, for writing this book. On 4 September, the Gujarat High Court revoked the ban.Jharkhand2011Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With IndiaJoseph LelyveldGujaratThe biographical book suggested that Gandhi was a bisexual. It is banned in the state of Gujarat (where Gandhi was born) on 31 March 2011. The Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily hinted that the Centre may also ban the book. Gandhi’s grandsons, Tushar Gandhi,Rajmohan Gandhi and Gopalkrishna Gandhi, expressed opposition to the ban proposal. On 4 April, Moily ruled out the ban.2013Meendezhum Pandiyar Varalaru (Resurgence of Pandiyan History)K. Senthil MallarTamil NaduThe Tamil Nadu government banned this Tamil book on 30 May 2013 on grounds that it may cause violence and promote discord among communities. The book allegedly claims the Dalit community called Pallar, were among the rulers of the Pandya kingdom. The author has appealed in the Madras High Court against the ban.2017The Adivasi Will Not DanceHansda Sowvendra ShekharJharkhandOn 11 August 2017, the government of Jharkhand banned The Adivasi Stories was removed in December 2017 and Shekhar’s suspension was removed and he was reinstated into his job in 2018.
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