Scared of the truth? Ban it

Sunday, 17 February 2013 - 9:00am IST
Annie Zaidi writes poetry, stories, essays, scripts (and in a dark, distant past, recipes she never actually tried)

George Orwell’s Animal Farm is one book that I feel should be compulsory reading for students above 15. It is a fabulous way of introducing young people to the dangers of any political system where individuals fail to question their leaders. I think of it as an aide to democracy and so was surprised to see the book on a list of banned books.

Apparently, Animal Farm was found guilty of being critical of the USSR (which was an ally of the USA and UK at the time) so they didn’t want it published until the war ended. But even as late as 2002, the novel was disallowed in the United Arab Emirates, because it had talking pigs in it.
For curiosity’s sake, look up the list (http://bit.ly/g5sA4). It includes classics like Catch 22, Frankenstein, and Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland. You will note that most bans were imposed for political reasons, or to control religious sentiments. Some books were banned by communists, some by Islamic ones, capitalist and/or democratic ones, or by states within nations. Common to all is a terror of ‘obscenity’ or explicit sexual context, which rejected Ginsberg’s Howl for the same reasons as Jackie Collins’ The World Is Full Of Married Men.
Many historical eras are represented on the list — ancient Romans to modern fundamentalists of different denominations. But what is more interesting to me is the way religion, sex and politics are mashed in, the fear of one idea feeding off another.

For instance, I read that Uncle Tom’s Cabin was banned by the Czars in Russia for fear of undermining religious ideals. Religion wasn’t the issue, slavery was. But it is a very powerful idea after all — that people are equal. This means that everyone deserves justice in equal measure. It means that those who are in power must extend to everyone the same rights.
It isn’t just about books, of course. A recent RTI query revealed that, between 2001 and 2011, the censor board denied certification (an effective ban, since a film cannot be screened without a certificate) to 256 films. These reportedly included odd titles like Jija Teen Taang Ka and Frivolous Lola.

But it also includes Rahul Dholakia’s Parzania, a film about the Gujarat riots of 2002. Rakesh Sharma’s Final Solution was initially banned too. Both films were screened eventually and there is absolutely nothing in either film that would damage India. If anything, they strengthen us. Documentaries are especially important for they speak the truth, which is key to human justice.
Years pass, but people remain terrified of such truths. Anand Patwardhan had made a film called Ram Ke Naam over 20 years ago. Made before the demolition of the Babri mosque, it was cleared by the censor board, and won national awards. The film explains how the controversy started in 1949, and interviews both Hindus and Muslims residents, and a priest who mentioned corruption viz the proposed Ram temple, and who was murdered after the 1992 demolition.
This documentary was screened in recent weeks at a film festival in Ayodhya, and it is still being protested by the student wing of the BJP. The protest in turn was condemned by a group of citizens and NGOs. But it is still frightening to see how some of our citizens are so scared of the simplest truths about our own culture and history. It is frightening to think of how hard it is to stop people from inflicting violence, and how easy it is to get away with violence, if only the bogey of sex or religion is raised.

@anniezaidi

 


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