Savitri Era of those who adore, Om Sri Aurobindo and The Mother.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

The abiding appeal of this controversial book lies in its empirical depth

Letters to Editor telegraph  Wednesday , August 3 , 2011
Free speech 
Sir — In “Ban the ban” (July 30), Ramachandra Guha has taken the Gujarat government to task for slapping a ban on a book on Mahatma Gandhi by the American writer, Joseph Lelyveld. Significantly, the government of India is not a party to the ban. This is principally because of the instant intervention of the two scholarly descendants of the Mahatma — Rajmohan Gandhi and Gopalkrishna Gandhi — who put their objection to the ban in writing. The Manmohan Singh government then cleared the book for free circulation.

Guha mentions other instances of books being banned in India. Such episodes reveal the dictatorial streaks in India’s ruling class. Of the many cases, the ban on Peter Heehs’s The Lives of Sri Aurobindo deserves special mention. The abiding appeal of this controversial book lies in its empirical depth. Proscribing a book cannot be considered the right way to deal with controversial writers.

Incidentally, I beg to differ with Guha on one count. Guha mentions the Left Front government’s ban on a book written by Taslima Nasreen. Guha’s views are misplaced on this occasion. Bengal’s intelligentsia had defended Nasreen when fundamentalists had threatened her on an earlier occasion. Unfortunately, the Bangladeshi author seemed to have misused her freedom of expression later. Her book, Dwikhandita, was a shameless attack on the prophet. It was only then that scholars and intellectuals raised their voice in protest. But they had not pressed for her extradition. That came about as a result of an organized vandalism in Calcutta by some sections of the minority community. Therefore, the Left Front government cannot be indicted of having discriminated against her.

Guha, though, is absolutely within his rights to chastise Narendra Modi, who deserves to be punished for his disrespectful gesture. Yours faithfully, P.B. Saha, Calcutta 

Sir — Ramachandra Guha rightly says that in India most books are banned because of the insecurity and weaknesses of the government. Banning a book only makes it more popular. Those who had paid scant attention earlier end up being eager readers of the controversial work. Many readers profess dogmatic views. They often lack complete knowledge of a subject. Hence they are easily provoked by anything that appears to contradict their own views. On many occasions, they denounce such contrary views as immoral or wrong.

But India being the largest democracy must allow freedom of expression. This is only because the stifling of free speech is alien to democratic principles. Yours faithfully, Maloy Pal, Calcutta

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