October 12, 2011

Book banning in India and elsewhere

Nilanjana Roy's excellent blog article persuaded me to write the following response:

A well-written and deeply meaningful essay.

This particular instance of book banning is too obviously silly to merit much discussion.

Oh, BTW, I think interestingly enough, 'universities, publishers, art galleries, and bookshops' are all for-profit businesses and we need not be too surprised if they show a disinclination towards fighting for lofty ideas of intellectual freedom or freedom of thought and expression.

(I think there's really no need to elaborate how running universities might be profitable affairs for the old men so engaged.)

More broadly, now that there are not that many totalitarian political ideologies extant, the business of banning books rests more or less solely with the various defenders of the various faiths.

Religion is the real villain. Unfortunately, we either fail to make that connection or even if we do, we have the almost involuntary response of according it special status: religion is above reproach.

If we choose to take off such blinkers, it then becomes obvious enough that religions thrive only with the indulgence of the believers and their absolute willingness to be followers and not analysts or critics.

These century old ideas are as irrelevant in our time as a 25-year-old brick-sized cellphone.

We have chosen to discard so many monstrosities. Why not religion?

As long as we do not, the honest believers in religion will rise up in protest whenever someone wishes to dig too deep into any of these myths. The problem is simply this: if you dig too deep, you realize that it's all too self-contradictory and then you might get around to the obvious next question.

That question being: if it contradicts itself, then perhaps it's stupid and meaningless and perhaps time to ditch the whole nonsensical edifice.

The Hindu fanatics are such a joke. This country that is just beginning to get out of the gutter in some ways is benefiting from science & technology in infinite ways.

But the small sliver of society that mostly benefits from economic liberalization or global outsourcing on account of having certain skill sets that are global or globally transferable in nature is not too far removed from the archaic, illiterate mindsets of the villagers.

It's no wonder that these unfortunate newly rich folk are busy building temples and such in middle America. Lacking any understanding of philosophy or a sense of what life is about, I think it's fair to say that it's a mystery how their brains might operate.

It would be ONLY TOO LOGICAL therefore to expect these so-called literate people of India (the IT pros, the MBAs, the guys who have apparently led to India being suddenly transformed into a knowledge/IT superpower that the world revers) to support any and all forms of censorship.

The nature of specialized technical education in India being what it is and the nature of parental upbringing in India being what it is, dissenting views or freedom of expression or freedom to question or challenge are not intrinsic to Indian culture as far as I can tell.

We are not taught as children to QUESTION whatever our elders tell us. We are told to RESPECT our elders.

We are not told to ANALYZE the Ramayana or the Mahabharata or Krishna's message to Arjun in the Gita.

We are merely expected to remember those stories. The heroes and the villains are too black-and-white.

Perhaps that is why in Bollywood movies too, we always see a clear line of demarcation between the good guys and the bad guys.

The good guy tends to have no bad qualities and the bad guy tends to have no good qualities.

This is the over simplistic worldview of Indians. There is no reason to expect that centuries-old ways of thinking will change overnight or in the near future.

Indeed, when you see people suddenly troubled by unexpected misfortunes which are obviously completely random and yet people are not used to them, you see people indulging in quite astonishingly silly activities.

How else would you explain the people of Texas praying to God for rain? One thought that happened only in Kerala.

It's only because the same people of the great State of Texas have come to the obvious realization that there's a CLEAR AND PRESENT AND DIRECT conflict between religion/Christianity and science/biology/evolution that they've taken up the fight without being pretenders.

What is one to make of the lack of any such fights between Hindu Creationists and teachers of evolution in our own great nation? Have Indians suddenly become enlightened as to the evidence-based nature of science and the intrinsic logic of biology? Have Hindus realized that the whole edifice of the creation myth involving Vishnu, Brahma, and Shiva is only fiction that could have been written by a screenwriter of a B-grade Bollywood movie?

I do not think Hindus are that enlightened. They are merely willing to have multiple belief systems. It's almost like that Grouch Marx quote about having principles.

Bottom line: we writers will continue to make wolverine noises in the empty jungles and we'll make no difference to the thought processes of society at large.
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