The pen, indeed, is mightier than the sword. Reading any kind of material exposes you to knowledge and information beyond your reach, giving you access to others’ experiences and opinions. Words have the power to influence individuals and communities — they have to be chosen carefully. Which is why our governments and courts ban anything they believe could cause a debate or dispute. So much for freedom of expression!
Today, we’ve handpicked 5 such books that are based on controversial subjects and famous faces. Some of them elicited a violent response and were banned in India. Have you managed to read any of these?
1. The Red Sari
The book is based on the life of one of the most powerful women in Indian history, who led the grand old Congress party for 19 years: Sonia Gandhi.
Authored by Javier Moro, it was originally published in Spanish as El Sari Rojo in 2008.
It was taken off the stands because of Congress leaders’ objection at the time, and finally released in India in 2015 after BJP came to power.
Why it was banned: Congress leader and lawyer Abhishek Singhvi argued that the book violated Sonia Gandhi’s privacy.
2. The Polyester Prince: The Rise of Dhirubhai Ambani
Next on the list is the unofficial biography of business tycoon and founder of Reliance Industries, Dhirubhai Ambani. Authored by Hamish McDonald, the book was published in Australia way back in 1998, but never released in India.
It could never go into print for the Indian market because the publisher, Harper Collins, anticipated that a legal action could be filed against them by the Ambani family. And who would want to go up against one of the most powerful men in the country, right?
Why it was banned: The book throws light on some of the controversial aspects of Ambani’s life, like his political clout and other legal accusations made against him.
3. The Satanic Verses
Published in 1988, The Satanic Verses is still banned in India. It is also one of the most cited examples when the debate on freedom of expression is triggered.
The novel written by Salman Rushdie was opposed by extremist groups in India and around the world. It even led to a fatwa being issued against him by the leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini.
Why it was banned: The Satanic Verses has made some controversial comments on Quran and Prophet Muhammad, and was considered as hate speech.
4. The Hindus: An Alternative History
Another book that stirred up a big controversy, The Hindus: An Alternative History is based on the voices that may have shaped the narratives of Hindu religion beyond those of the upper-caste men.
Enraged activists from the right-wing extremist groups took to the streets and burned the books, and also filed several cases against the publisher. Under pressure, Penguin India decided to pull out all the books.
Why it was banned: The author Wendy Doniger was accused of misrepresenting facts and maligning Hinduism.
5. Godman to Tycoon
The latest book to face a ban, Godman to Tycoon tries to narrate the journey of Baba Ramdev from a yoga guru to the head of a multi-million dollar business.
Published in 2017 by Juggernaut Books and authored by journalist Priyanka Pathak, it was barred from sale after an injunction by Delhi Court. The case is still in court, and the book cannot be sold until it is resolved.
Why it was banned: The book touches upon Ramdev’s journey and questions the authenticity of his ‘natural’ product range, Patanjali.
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