BENGALURU: In the recently concluded Lekhana Literary Weekend, city- based writers and national as well as international authors, playwrights and artists came together to do a relay-reading of Perumal Murugan's One Part Woman, the English translation of the Tamil original Madhorubhagan. The entire book was read aloud by 43 people through the entire day and marked their show of solidarity with the author. Perumal has been at the receiving end of the ire of fundamentalist Hindu outfits and his books have been burned. As calls for banning his book go up, questioning the nature of free speech and the freedom of an author to express his ideas, we take a look at a few other seminal books of our time that have created a public furore among sections of the population and were consequently banned. Most of these writers continue to face the ire of the right-wing condemners of their works and along with bans, fatwas, jail terms and have had to fear for their very lives. In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, one needs to sit back and wonder exactly what freedom of expression means, where lies its responsibility and who are the so-called guardians who decide where these boundaries exist.
The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie (1988)
Rushdie’s book about Bollywood superstar and air crash survivors Gabreel Farishta and voiceover artiste Saladin Chamcha is a take on the immigrant experience, modern day alienation and all of it told through his magic realist style and through dream scapes. The religious undertones in the book is more a questioning rather than a deep exploration of Islam itself. Unfortunately, Rushdie's references to religion were considered to be to radical and blasphemous. Ayatollah Khomeini led the attack by issuing a fatwa against the writer and ordered Muslims of the world to get together and kill the man. Subsequently the book was banned in countries across the world, including India and attempts to smuggle it into these places was decreed a punishable offence. While the author was forced to go into hiding and live under a borrowed name and identity for many years, controversy continues to dog his footsteps. At a recent literature festival in India where Rushdie was one of the featured writers, fundamentalism reared its ugly head and he received threats that finally prevented him from making an appearance. In solidarity, a group of writers actually read paragraphs from the banned book before they were stopped by the authorities.
Lajja by Taslima Nasreen (1993)
Taslima Nasrin’s Lajja is about the story of the Hindu Dutta family in Bangladesh and the violent aftermath of the Babri Masjid demolition that tore apart families and split neighbours and friends along religious lines. The author had presented a critique of certain Islamic notions which earned her death threats and physical attacks and a ban of her book in Bangladesh and its censorship in parts in India. While the author was forced to seek asylum in the West and India, where she lived for a few years till extremists created a furore around her presence, forcing her to leave the subcontinent, she continues to be a champion of secular thought and free speech.
The Hindus: An Alternative History by Wendy Doniger
Doniger’s non-fiction work about the diverse strands that made up Hinduism and the unification of this essentially polytheistic religion by a British-Brahmin oligarchy, raised the hackles of a small Hindutva group and created a lawsuit which resulted in the book being recalled by the publishers for fear of a right-wing reaction. The IPC did little to help the case as the law views the publication of a book that hurts religious sentiments to be a criminal offence, whether the case be true or false. In fact, the questions over whether the said group had bothered to red the whole book were raised, but to no avail.