"Ban The Ban!" by Fr. Cedric Prakash

"BAN THE BAN!" by Fr. Cedric Prakash

* Fr. Cedric Prakash

The decision of the Government of Gujarat to ban, 'Jinnah: India, Partition Independence', the controversial book by Jaswant Singh is on expected lines.  Freedom of speech and expression, voices of dissent, have been systematically quelled in recent years.  This attitude bordering on totalitarianism and surely myopic, does not augur well for the future.

Whether Singh's 'Jinnah' merits a brief or not, is irrelevant.  The point is, that civil society is being treated with an arrogance that conveys a somewhat "you-cannot-think-for-yourself-so-I-will-decide-what's-good-for-you".  In a highly globalised world, when we boast about vibrancy and a technology for the future, this is the last thing to be expected!  It is common knowledge that those who want to read the book will do so at whatever the cost.

In Gujarat the response to those who challenge is generally the same: whether it is a campaign by a daily newspaper to highlight endemic ills or Medha Patkar focusing on the plight of the displaced adivasis; whether it is Ashish Nandi who has the courage to critique a section of society or the portrayal of reality by a film like 'Parzania'.  Whilst no "official ban" might have been promulgated, the writing on the wall is all too clear.  There are some in this State, who would like to maintain the status quo because they know what the bosses want!

The Gujarat Government would be more honest if it looked at the sub-standard textbooks it produces:  of a history which is conveniently distorted and how at a very early age the children of the State are fed with warped ideas of the other: be it in caste, class, religion and even women.

The country and the world has gone through various phases of banning books and films: "The Satanic Verses", 'Da Vinci Code' et al.  A healthy democracy has to promote freedom of  thought and expression at every level and must have the courage to respect dissenting opinions.  The only ban that could be accepted on this freedom is our ability to "ban the ban!"

(* Fr. Cedric Prakash SJ is the Director of PRASHANT, the Ahmedabad based Jesuit Centre for Human Rights, Justice and Peace.)

21st August, 2009

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