Censorship – by the state, market, mob or even self – seeks to destroy ideas after they are uttered or sometimes even before they are articulated. How does one resist or defeat censorship? Texts (defined here as books, pamphlets, posters, newspapers, journals or printed matter on any other medium) that are banned often continue to circulate in a clandestine manner, at times at great personal cost to the author, editor, and publisher. In the long run, however, such texts are often consigned to the dustbin of history. The fact of censorship may be remembered but the words of authors, both famous and anonymous, fade away with time. Even as scholars of censorship focus on its tools (legal, administrative) and even resistance to it, the material itself gets obscured.

This anthology will take you on a journey of words and ideas that were deemed dangerous and seditious by the British colonial state in the eventful first half of the 20th century in India. It includes non-fiction writings by figures famous, obscure and anonymous, of events immortalised and forgotten, by Indians and non-Indians, by people jailed and free, by politicians and intellectuals, revolutionaries and students. The well-known figures included in this selection include SC Bose, Bhikaiji Cama, Hay Dayal, ML Dhingra, MK Gandhi, Aurobindo Ghose, HM Hyndman, Shyamji Krishnavarma, MM Malaviya, SP Mookerjee, Jayaprakash Narayan, J Nehru, M Nehru, Lajpat Rai, C Rajagopalachari, Sampurnanand, VD Savarkar, and BG Tilak.

Each excerpt illuminates not just its author’s thought processes, but the times in which the text was composed and circulated. Some of these banned ideas are provocative even today while others seem tame; certain arguments have stood the test of time while others have lost currency. If censorship gives us an insight into the weaknesses of a state – its many Achilles’ heels, as it were – these texts collectively map the anxieties of the colonial state. They also reveal to us individuals, events and ideas that have shaped India’s present. Changes in the tone and tenour of these banned texts reveal the limits of tolerance as the century progressed.

Colonial censorship laws are still in place in India, supplemented but not replaced by post-colonial legislation. Given their long afterlife, it is only fair that once-banned texts too are retrieved and remembered. When we read the words of banned writers, we access – as best as possible, after the intervention of time – their worlds, their world views and their aims and rationale for action.

The banned text reproduced below is from a booklet titled The Eight Days’ Interlude. Published by the Jawahar Press in Delhi, it is a 22-page booklet in English that was issued after Jawaharlal Nehru’s arrest in October 1930. It included a timeline of his activities from October 11, 1930, when he was released from prison, till October 19 when he was arrested again. In this whirlwind week, Nehru had visited Mussoorie, Dehradun, and Lucknow, and addressed dozens of public meetings.

English and Hindi versions of the entire booklet were banned. Nehru spent nine years of his life in prison; The written statement was issued by him when he was charged with sedition, with instigating Indians not to pay taxes, and with offences under the Indian Salt Act.

Statement made by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru at his trial at the Naini Central Jail on October 24, 1930

For the fifth time I have been arrested and charged with various crimes by the officials of the British Government. For the fifth time, I have no doubt, I shall be convicted. I have so far taken no part in this trial and I desire to take none. But I wish to say a few words so that those who are trying me today and my own people, who have honoured me beyond measure, may have some glimpse of what I have in my heart.

I am charged with sedition and with the spreading of disaffection against the British Government. Eight and a half years ago I was charged with a similar offence and I stated then that sedition against the present government in India had become the creed of the Indian people, and to preach and practise disaffection against the evil which it represents had become their chief occupation, for the Indian people had come to realise that there could be no freedom for them, no lessening of the terrible exploitation which had crushed the life out of millions, till British rule was removed from India. Since this realisation came upon me in all its tragic intensity, I have had no other profession, no other business, no other aim than to fight British imperialism and to drive it from India.

On the first day of this year the National Congress finally resolved to achieve the independence of India, and on January 26, the Indian people pledged themselves in their millions to put an end to British rule in India. They declared the age-long right of a people to subvert any government which had misgoverned and crushed them, and they charged the British government with having exploited them ruthlessly and done them almost irreparable injury politically, economically, culturally, and spiritually. Since that pledge was taken, there can be no willing submission of any Indian to British authority, no recognition by him of British rule and if a few of us side with the enemy or parley with him while the fight in in progress, it is a terrible measure of the spiritual injury caused by British rule making them kiss the rod that smites them and hug the very chains that bind.

Some of these misguided and erring countrymen of ours have chosen to desert the motherland in her hour of need and talk of compromises with British imperialism, but the country has chosen another path under the guidance and inspiration of our great leader, and that path it will pursue till success comes to it. There can be no compromise between freedom and slavery, and between truth and falsehood. We realise that the price of freedom is blood and suffering – the blood of our own countrymen and the suffering of the noblest in the land – and that price we shall pay in full measure.

Already the world is witness to the sacrifice and suffering of our people at the altar of freedom, to the wonderful courage of our women and to the indomitable spirit of our brave peasantry. Strong in the faith with which our leader has inspired them, with confidence in themselves and in their great cause, they have willingly set aside their material pleasures and belongings, and written a stirring and a shining chapter in India’s long history. And the world has also seen how our peaceful struggle is sought to be crushed by frightfulness and methods of barbarism which have earned for the British Government in India a comparison with the Huns of old.

Unlike the Huns, however, they have added insult to deep injury and have sought, after the manner of their kind, to cover their deeds of frightfulness with cloak of piety and sanctimoniousness. Fearful of exposure they have sought to suppress truth in every way. Those whom the gods wished to destroy [sic] they first drive mad, and all the mad deeds which the British Government has done in India during the last seven months – desperate devices of a tottering empire are visible emblems of the crash to come.

We have no quarrel with English people much less with the English worker. Like us he has himself been the victim of imperialism, and it is against this imperialism that we fight. With it there can be no compromise. To this imperialism or to England we own [sic] no allegiance, and the flag of England in India is an insult to every Indian. The British Government today is an enemy for us, a foreign usurping power holding on to India with the help of their army of occupation. My allegiance is to the Indian people only and to no king or foreign government. I am a servant of the Indian people and I recognise no other master.

The end of our struggle approaches and the British Empire will soon go the way of all the Empires of old. The strangling and the degradation of India has gone on long enough. It will be tolerated no longer, and let England and the world take notice that the people of India are prepared to be friends with all who meet them frankly as equals and do not interfere with their freedom. But they will be no friends with such as seek to interfere with their liberties or to exploit the peasant or the worker. Nor will they tolerate in future the humbug and hypocricy [sic] which has been doled out to them in such ample measure by England.

To the Indian people I cannot express my gratitude sufficiently for their confidence and affection. It has been the greatest joy in my life to serve in this glorious struggle and to do my little bit for the cause. I pray that my countrymen and country women will carry on the good fight unceasingly till success crowns their effort and we realise the India of our dreams.


Central Prison, Naini

Jawaharlal Nehru

October 24, 1930.

Excerpted with permission from Banned and Censored: What the British Raj Didn’t Want Us to Read, selected and introduced by Devika Sethi, Roli Books.