Ban the ban

In addition to ‘The Satanic Verses’, here are ten books that India needs to unban now

It’s time to put a stop to India’s ridiculous obsession with banning books.

On Saturday, senior Congress leader and former Finance Minister P Chidambaram admitted that the ban on Salman Rushdie’s novel The Satanic Verses was unjust. “I have no hesitation in saying that the ban on Salman Rushdie’s book was wrong,” he said.

The proscription was imposed 27 years back, in 1988, when Chidambaram was the Minister of State Home Affairs in Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s cabinet. The novel had outraged conservative Muslim opinion when it was published.

Asked why it took him so long to say something that many would consider obvious, Chidambaram said, “If you had asked me 20 years ago, I would have told you the same thing.” The reply didn’t satisfy Rushdie who tweeted: “This admission just took 27 years. How many more before the ‘mistake’ is corrected?”

While this has become a familiar Bharatiya Janata Party-Congress battle, Rushdie’s sarcastic question is the nub of the matter: when will the ban be lifted? Chidambaram remembered his liberal playbook neatly when his party is out of power. And though the BJP has made Muslim appeasement into a mass electoral issue, it has not removed the ban on The Satanic Verses despite leading a government at the Centre for almost eight years.

But it’s not just The Satanic Verses . India has banned scores of books, whether for hurting religious sentiments ­or because they broached political and historical controversies. India is an odd sort of democracy, which clamps down on the very lifeblood of democracy: free speech. Here is a list of 10 books that central and state governments need to unban immediately.

1. Unarmed Victory, Bertrand Russell
Bertrand Russell was a British philosopher, logician, mathematician, historian, writer and political activist. He also starred in a Hindi film with a three-minute cameo advising Rajendra Kumar on how to help the victims of the WWII atomic bombings in Japan.

His pacifist views, though, managed to anger India when he criticised it over the 1962 Indo-China war in the book, Unarmed India. India quite remarkably banned the book by one of the greatest intellectuals of the 20th century.

2. The Polyester Prince, Hamish McDonalds
The political clout of the Ambanis is so widespread that by now that it is a familiar topic of humour. In 2013, the Unreal Times, a satirical news website, ran a piece which spoke of a demand for the Ambani residence in Mumbai, Antilla, to be declared a separate state altogether.

A direct result of that power has resulted in Hamish McDonald’s book being banned. The Polyester Prince details Dhirubai Ambani’s rise as a tycoon and levels a number of allegations of corruption against him.

3. Nine Hours to Rama, Stanley Wolpert
The book, a fictionalised account of Mahatma Gandhi’s assassination written by the University of California historian, Stanley Wolpert, was banned in 1962. Wolpert’s research had shown that the home ministry had provided poor security to Gandhi at the time of his assassination and hinted at a possible conspiracy.

4. The Ramayana, Aubrey Menen
An irreverent retelling of the Hindu epic, the Ramayana, the book was banned by Jawaharlal Nehru’s government in 1956 on the ground that it would hurt religious sentiments.

5. Rangila Rasul
Published anonymously by a member of the Arya Samaj in Lahore in 1927, the book raised hackles for attacking Prophet Mohammed. The chain of events it set off included riots in Lahore, courts cases, murders and the creation of India’s blasphemy law that still exists on the books.

6. Shivaji – Hindu King in Muslim India, James Laine
An academic study of Shivaji, the book was banned in Maharashtra and Gujarat for repeating a snide remark about Shivaji. At the time, 150 people had ransacked the office of Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune.

7. An Area of Darkness, VS Naipaul
Probably the only book to be banned in Indian written by a Nobel laureate, An Area of Darkness was bitterly critical of the country. Among other things, it castigated India for not knowing how to make cheese. It was banned in 1964.

8. Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India, Joseph Lelyveld
Great Soul is a layered biography of the Mahatma but got sensationalised when many reviewers and readers misinterpreted it and thought it hinted at Gandhi having a homosexual relationship.

The author himself shot down any such suggestions and made it clear that he had not commented on Gandhi’s sexuality. However, it was too late. The chain of events meant that Chief Minister Narendra Modi banned the book in Gujarat in 2011.

As Gujarat chief minister, Modi had also banned Jaswant Singh’s biography of Jinnah for allegedly insulting Vallabhbhai Patel, but a court order overturned the ban.

9. Lady Chatterley's Lover, DH Lawrence
First published in 1928 and banned by the Raj, the book is still proscribed in India even 50 years after Britain lifted the ban in 1960.

In 1964, bookseller Ranjit Udeshi in Mumbai was prosecuted for selling the book. The Supreme Court upheld that “community standards” were important in determining what is obscene and Lady Chatterly’s Lover failed those standards.

10. The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, Peter Heehs
An extremely well-regarded biography of Bengali revolutionary-turned-ascetic Aurobindo, the book ran into trouble with modern devotees for refusing to accept the saint’s divinity. “To accept Sri Aurobindo as an avatar is necessarily a matter of faith”, Hees wrote, adding that “matters of faith quickly become matters of dogma”.

In response to being called dogmatists, some Aurobindo devotees filed a case in the Orissa High Court asking for a ban on the book in 2008 and got it.

We welcome your comments at letters@scroll.in.
Sponsored Content BY 

How sustainable farming practices can secure India's food for the future

India is home to 15% of the world’s undernourished population.

Food security is a pressing problem in India and in the world. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), it is estimated that over 190 million people go hungry every day in the country.

Evidence for India’s food challenge can be found in the fact that the yield per hectare of rice, one of India’s principal crops, is 2177 kgs per hectare, lagging behind countries such as China and Brazil that have yield rates of 4263 kgs/hectare and 3265 kgs/hectare respectively. The cereal yield per hectare in the country is also 2,981 kgs per hectare, lagging far behind countries such as China, Japan and the US.

The slow growth of agricultural production in India can be attributed to an inefficient rural transport system, lack of awareness about the treatment of crops, limited access to modern farming technology and the shrinking agricultural land due to urbanization. Add to that, an irregular monsoon and the fact that 63% of agricultural land is dependent on rainfall further increase the difficulties we face.

Despite these odds, there is huge potential for India to increase its agricultural productivity to meet the food requirements of its growing population.

The good news is that experience in India and other countries shows that the adoption of sustainable farming practices can increase both productivity and reduce ecological harm.

Sustainable agriculture techniques enable higher resource efficiency – they help produce greater agricultural output while using lesser land, water and energy, ensuring profitability for the farmer. These essentially include methods that, among other things, protect and enhance the crops and the soil, improve water absorption and use efficient seed treatments. While Indian farmers have traditionally followed these principles, new technology now makes them more effective.

For example, for soil enhancement, certified biodegradable mulch films are now available. A mulch film is a layer of protective material applied to soil to conserve moisture and fertility. Most mulch films used in agriculture today are made of polyethylene (PE), which has the unwanted overhead of disposal. It is a labour intensive and time-consuming process to remove the PE mulch film after usage. If not done, it affects soil quality and hence, crop yield. An independently certified biodegradable mulch film, on the other hand, is directly absorbed by the microorganisms in the soil. It conserves the soil properties, eliminates soil contamination, and saves the labor cost that comes with PE mulch films.

The other perpetual challenge for India’s farms is the availability of water. Many food crops like rice and sugarcane have a high-water requirement. In a country like India, where majority of the agricultural land is rain-fed, low rainfall years can wreak havoc for crops and cause a slew of other problems - a surge in crop prices and a reduction in access to essential food items. Again, Indian farmers have long experience in water conservation that can now be enhanced through technology.

Seeds can now be treated with enhancements that help them improve their root systems. This leads to more efficient water absorption.

In addition to soil and water management, the third big factor, better seed treatment, can also significantly improve crop health and boost productivity. These solutions include application of fungicides and insecticides that protect the seed from unwanted fungi and parasites that can damage crops or hinder growth, and increase productivity.

While sustainable agriculture through soil, water and seed management can increase crop yields, an efficient warehousing and distribution system is also necessary to ensure that the output reaches the consumers. According to a study by CIPHET, Indian government’s harvest-research body, up to 67 million tons of food get wasted every year — a quantity equivalent to that consumed by the entire state of Bihar in a year. Perishables, such as fruits and vegetables, end up rotting in store houses or during transportation due to pests, erratic weather and the lack of modern storage facilities. In fact, simply bringing down food wastage and increasing the efficiency in distribution alone can significantly help improve food security. Innovations such as special tarpaulins, that keep perishables cool during transit, and more efficient insulation solutions can reduce rotting and reduce energy usage in cold storage.

Thus, all three aspects — production, storage, and distribution — need to be optimized if India is to feed its ever-growing population.

One company working to drive increased sustainability down the entire agriculture value chain is BASF. For example, the company offers cutting edge seed treatments that protect crops from disease and provide plant health benefits such as enhanced vitality and better tolerance for stress and cold. In addition, BASF has developed a biodegradable mulch film from its ecovio® bioplastic that is certified compostable – meaning farmers can reap the benefits of better soil without risk of contamination or increased labor costs. These and more of the company’s innovations are helping farmers in India achieve higher and more sustainable yields.

Of course, products are only one part of the solution. The company also recognizes the importance of training farmers in sustainable farming practices and in the safe use of its products. To this end, BASF engaged in a widespread farmer outreach program called Samruddhi from 2007 to 2014. Their ‘Suraksha Hamesha’ (safety always) program reached over 23,000 farmers and 4,000 spray men across India in 2016 alone. In addition to training, the company also offers a ‘Sanrakshan® Kit’ to farmers that includes personal protection tools and equipment. All these efforts serve to spread awareness about the sustainable and responsible use of crop protection products – ensuring that farmers stay safe while producing good quality food.

Interested in learning more about BASF’s work in sustainable agriculture? See here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of BASF and not by the Scroll editorial team.