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Banned Books Week: Sep 25 to Oct 2

25 Sep

CensorshipIn India, censorship is rampant! It takes many forms and makes its appearance at many levels. But in a strange twisted way, we live in a society that is both highly censored and has the most freedom.

There is a pervading sense that, if one is lucky and has the power and money/knows the right people, one can get away with almost anything – sans consequence – corruption, murder, just to mention a few.

But you will also call down the wrath of “morality” and self-appointed guardians of “Indian culture” upon yourself for many other issues that you might think are your business: what you wear, who you talk to, who you marry, what religion you follow, smoking, drinking, partying, holding hands in public (with someone of the opposite sex), celebrating a silly Hallmark day… These are just some of those things that are closely watched. Watch out for swift punishment if you put a toe out of line when the wrong people are watching.

Strangely, but strangely, I have not been able to find too many books that have been banned here. Apart from religious and political, non fiction books, these are the novels that have been banned in India:

God of Small Things – Arundathi Roy (which I have read and quite liked)

Satanic Verses – Salman Rushdie

Lajja – Taslima Nasreen


American classrooms have a lot more drama, with parents objecting to racial, sexual and violent content in books earmarked for study in classrooms. The American Library Association lists all the Banned and/or Challenged Books.

The Banned Books Week aims to celebrate free thought and support books that have been challenged or banned. These novels have been challenged and swept away by censorship at different points in history. Ideas, ideals, prejudices change over time and what was sensitive or shocking or against moral standards at one time, is no longer measured by the same standards. While reading these books, the fun is to imagine living in the period when it was published to understand why it was banned.

The anarchist in me delights in having read some of these books from the Banned list.

Not having found anything to protest about closer to home in this regard, I look across the seas to lend my support to books that are being stifled in the here and now.

Speak by Laurie Halse AndersonOne of them that I’m interested in is Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson.

Aimed at Young Adults, this novel tells the story of high school freshman Melinda. Already a social misfit, she becomes a pariah when she calls the police while at a party. This leads to several arrests. But the real reason Melinda calls the cops is because she has been raped by a senior. The story then focuses on how she deals with this trauma.

Protest: Some parents have asked that the book not be included in school curriculum, labeling it soft porn.

Dr. Wesley Scroggins has objected to certain books being allowed as part of school curriculum.

Blogs like Mindful Musings and others are showing their support for the book by organising giveaways of this and other challenged books that include Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut and Twenty Boy Summer by Sarah Ockler.

I reserve comment until I have had a chance to read it myself, but at this point in time, the allegations seems rather exaggerated. I’m not one to blindly trust the establishment, but I have trouble believing that the school curriculum authorities would have included a book that is soft porn. I have no doubt that the description of the rape is disturbing, but calling it soft porn seems way off base.

I’d like to read the book to judge for myself, but or the time-being, I’d rather throw my support behind freedom of expression!

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