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Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Gandhi, Lelyveld and India....

The recent ban of Lelyveld's book in Gujarat by Modi is a paradox of a kind. Typically a ban on the book is meant to stifle its presence in the place, and should at least theoretically reduce its popularity. The ban was declared even before the book was released in India. The furore seems to be based on misleading reports in the British tabloid press which suggest that Lelyveld's book claimed that Gandhi was 'bisexual' and had a lover's relationship with a German weightlifter, Hermann Kallenbach.

But the question here is--Why do Indian politicians, right wing organizations, and religous fundamentalists raise such an outcry of a ban even without reading or analysing the content in question? The ban by Bombay University on Rohinton mistry's book is another example. The context there was, a few lines written about Shiv Sena which as usual where taken out of context and then used as an example to show how degenerate the book is....

From M F Husain's self-imposed exile following attacks for his allegedly sacrilegious paintings of Hindu deities to goons beating up couples for celebrating Valentine's Day, intolerance rather than tolerance seems increasingly to have become the order of the day in India.

Those who believe that freedom of expression, within the boundaries of the law, is the indispensable cornerstone of an open society decry this growing intolerance as perhaps the single most serious threat to our democracy. They fear that with each ban or threatened ban, with each extra-legal use of force to stifle self-expression in any form, the Indian liberal is becoming an increasingly endangered species.

While this is a very real fear, it is perhaps equally true that each new challenge to tolerance, to the spirit of liberalism, presents an opportunity for a public debate on debate itself and our freedom to engage in it. How free are we as a society? Where does one person's freedom of expression become another person's trespass of religious or social sensibility?

This is the paradox of all bans and censorship. The more you try to muzzle something or someone, the more attention you draw to the subject and the more public discourse you create around it. Silence is the victory of the ban; argument and discourse are the victories of democracy.

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