Freedom, Religion & Literature in India

The past few weeks have seen a quiet storm build up. In the eye of the storm is Penguin India and Wendy Doniger’s “Hinduism: An Alternative History” and a bunch of offended religious sentiment people.

Penguin India announced a couple of weeks ago that they would be withdrawing and pulping (an innocent term for destroying) all copies of the book. There was no court order banning the book but there was a case filed against it in 2010 by Shiksha Bachao Andolan.

I had not heard about the book and perhaps would have continued in ignorance if not for this announcement by the publisher. 

The argument of the petitioner was the book hurt religious sentiments, had wrong facts and thereby would case “fear and alarm among that their religion and religious beliefs are not safe any more and can be trampled with and denigrated, distorted & insulted and hence  you have intended to induce and incite them to commit offences against the State and against Public Tranquility.”

This is not the first time a book has been banned due to these reasons. But there always was a court order behind such bans and withdrawals. I am looking for Penguin’s reasoning behind the withdrawal but can’t seem to find any. But there definitely is not a court order behind this move. 

The lack of clear reasoning makes this act more scary than a court order. The move seems to be another in a growing list of things that are going against the Freedom of Speech and Expression in India. From being arrested for innocent tweets and Facebook status messages to creating cartoons on figureheads, the mantra of intolerance seems to be on the rise in India.

What seemed to be funny articles have suddenly acquired a darker meaning. Kochi – the state that was all about the proletariat suddenly announced they were seizing all t-shirts and other things with Bob Marley’s photographs on them. Why? Because Bob Marley apparently promotes weed.

Goa – the party destination of India and Gokarna, the alternate refuge for hippies, have more complaints about police raids and harassment. Cops claim that this is done to ensure the safety of the tourists, given the rise in number of rapes and murders. Hashish / Charas / Ganja – the drug of our gods have suddenly taken a more sinister meaning.

Is there a reason behind this intolerance in the country? Is the story of Wendy Doniger and Penguin just a wake up call that most of us will not heed?


In researching the story about Doniger and Penguin, I visited the website of the petitioner – Shiksha Bachao Andolan. 

Their description was as follows (though in Hindi) – Important role of education in national reconstruction is the goal . The overall development of the personality of the nation’s citizenry is the key role of education in any country . Education structure , curriculum – curriculum qualitatively , access and conform to the culture of the country , there has been public discussion on issues of education . Despite being the largest component of student academic world on various aspects of education debate has been kept away from him . Education for the nation re-building seminar on the role of students in an innovative effort being through education, culture, regeneration trust . This seminar is for pupils and students for students .

I came across another article on NDTV at the same time, which talked about factual errors in government-prescribed textbooks of school children. You can read the story here.

Impressionable children are being allowed to read wrong facts about Indian history. Facts and figures. Straight forward dates. And there are organizations which are worried about adults reading an interpretation of myth, religion and religious texts. Interpretations and analysis from which they are allowed to draw their own conclusion. 

I wonder if Wendy Doniger had  been an Indian, would there have been a similar riot? Foreigners are increasingly  been given the stink eye in India. Ask any foreign correspondent who has been working in Delhi in the past couple of years. 

Paranoia or truth?

Links and inspirations

I found this blog today. It is a fashion blog… but a little different. Called “A Dress A Day,” it is all about finding those vintage dresses in flea markets or whatever and make them into these really funky dress/tops etc. It is incredibly creative and a little inspiring.

Actually, inspiring enough to make me think of the pile of clothes in the bottom shelf at the back of my wardrobe… all those clothes I fell in love with and bought despite them being a tad too big for me and realised they didn’t quite hang right when I got home. I always do that. Buy it because I figure I’ll grow into it (duh!) or cuz I love it so much that I figure it’ll fit me right anyway. And then I hate it and don’t quite have the heart to throw it out and so it sticks in my wardrobe, till years later (and I’ve done this only once in my 25 years) I finally throw it out or give it away.

So this site is quite good an inspiration to make those subtle alterations except for two things:
a) I hate sewing/stitching and all those things. Sewing a broken button back on is pretty much all I want to do, which brings me to…
b) Sewing a broken button back on is pretty much all I can do I think. Now, there is a sewing machine in my house but I think my parents would have a heart attack if I sat down there to do anything at all.

But it must be fun to be so creative and stitch your own stuff. I am not saying that I am not creative… hey! I am. But clothes is a different ball game altogether. And if I did sew, it would save me so much agony of shopping.

*Side rant: Whose sizes do they make those beautiful clothes for anyway?*

Anyway, I spent most of the day looking at photos, when I wasn’t off writing about the world’s hungry population dropping. Yeah, apparently despite rising food prices, floods and droughts this year, there are fewer hungry people in the world for the first time in 15 years. I wonder if the mortality rate from natural disasters is also taken into account. I am not too convinced about the statistics. I mean 900-something million people are undernourished – that is it? But then if they UN says that, who am I to argue?

At least I am writing things that I care about… even if it is off a press release and a few random quotes I manage to get from experts. UN food reports, the food crisis, riots, the economy’s ups and downs… quite fascinating it is and makes me think a little. It perhaps also inures me to certain things. Like this article on Outlook I read recently by Arundhati Roy… she starts of talking about the CWG games and the human rights disaster it has been among other things (One line sticks out quite well – We are cleaning up the cities and herding poor people out of the nation’s capital to pay homage to games that were established for the British colonies). And then she moves on to talking about the Maoists, the Naxals and other violations that have happened in the country. The article went on for a while and I mostly skimmed through the end of it… but a friend of mine seemed to have a strong reaction to it while I was… unaffected. Maybe it is because I don’t think Roy is particularly fascinating. I love activists but when you have the tag, your message gets a little buried sometimes. But it isn’t that with Roy… the article was just too long. Or maybe it was simply because I’ve been reading tons of stuff about this forever. Maoists being killed, violations in North East India, army people shot to death, human rights violations in a million other ways.

It is a part of life and I do my part when I get a chance, and sometimes if it only a rant on my blog, perhaps it will make a difference.

Some believe in signing up for causes on Facebook. I did too… but then I figured what the hell was I doing? I mean what is the point of clicking “like” on ‘We are against female infanticide” on a social networking site? Who hears you anyway? Yes, we all hate it. But how does that make a difference unless you go out there and talk about it. Unless you step up when you have a chance… be it infanticide, or standing up against eve teasing.

It might seem quite innocent… a whistle, a guy copping a feel. But it isn’t.

Anyway, I discovered a whole new plethora of sites today… and I got some work done. And I still have stuff to do. Plus I’m inspired to really do something but I can’t figure out what. I haven’t painted in a while, nor have I written anything in longer. Photography has been the creative expression and that moves in bursts, usually.


Link of the day: As posted above 🙂