The reader will not dance

Here we go again. Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das and his Bharatiya Janata Party government have now joined a long list of rulers who have thrown democratic principles into the gutter and put a ban on a book they don’t like. To be more accurate, it’s not even a book they don’t like; it’s a book to which they have paid no attention until somebody — in this case the State Opposition — decided to turn it into a political football. To be even more precise, Das has peremptorily decided to ban a book of short stories written in English that was published two years ago. He says he has done this so that the mostly illiterate, mostly non-readers of English who are the people of Jharkhand can be ‘protected’ from this book. Furthermore, while some outraged people have seen fit to burn an effigy of the writer, Das has asked the relevant authorities to launch a legal case against the man for insulting the Adivasis and for showing Adivasi women in a bad light.

The real harvest of the ban

This argument for banning and prosecution made by the Jharkhand Chief Minister as well as Hemant Soren, the Leader of Opposition in the State Assembly, is a lie. This is because when Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar’s book was published — to considerable acclaim, as it happens — it caused no upheaval among the Adivasis of the State. It’s a lie because a book cannot ‘insult’ a religion, a god, a prophet, a people, an ethnic group, a caste, or a country; a book is a book, and you can choose to read it or not; a book doesn’t open by itself, it stays shut until someone chooses to pick it up and read it; a book does not collar you in the street or on a village path; a book does not spit in your face, ‘outrage your modesty’ or assault you.

With this lie, Das and Soren join a group of illustrious politician-liars. In 1988, Rajiv Gandhi and his Congress government banned a book because they wanted to pander to the Muslim vote bank. A few years later, the CPI(M) government…

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