Bombay is one of the most progressive cities in India. For most intents and purposes, both the New York and L.A. of India.
It is also the capital of of Maharashtra, a state that is proving to be more backward which each report of a book ban. On Monday, the Maharashtra government banned a scholarly book by James W. Laine on the life of Shivaji entitled, The Epic of Shivaji. The government had previously banned Laine’s other book, Shivaji: The Hindu King in Islamic India, in January 2004. The latter title is available for purchase here.
If you recall, Shivaji is the guy for whom all the landmarks in this town have been renamed. Maharashtrians (that is, Hindu people indigenous to the Deccan-Maratha plateau) are super serious about Shivaji. The Maharashtra Government website includes a profile of Shivaji, noting that he “…adopted a policy of religious tolerance to accommodate all religions and sects in his state.” There has also been a push of late to erect in Bombay a Rs. 100 crore (1 billion rupees or $22.6 million) statue of Shivaji that would rival the Statue of Liberty in size and supposedly lure international tourists to the city. Columnist Shobhaa De expounds on this ridiculous prospect in her editorial of this past week.
De’s article discusses how the government could better spend money on the city. An article in today’s Mid-Day quotes author Laine as saying, “it?s a pity that Indian intellectuals are not raising their voice against [the ban].” Well, it’s simple: Indian intellectuals and the people who are outraged by the thought of taxpayers’ money being used to raise a statue of a folk hero don’t vote and/or don’t get involved in politics. Or, if they vote, they are unable to vote in the numbers that the government’s supporters do. Unfortunately, Indian intellectuals can’t compete with millions of uneducated, reactionary thugs. The fear of reprisals against speaking up for a book that may question the creator of the Maratha nation must be tremendous.
A sad statistic in yesterday’s paper said that every second person in Bombay, or 54% of the population, lives in a slum. Many of these are the people that vote heavily in favor of the current Maharashtra government and/or Bal Thackeray’s Hindu fundamentalist Shiv Sena. The latest book ban reminds me a lot of the kind of diversionary tactic you see in U.S. politics, for one example with the U.S. motto measure in Pennsylvania. It’s just not fair to waste people’s time on issues that are not going to improve their lives. I’m sure if the Maharashtra government tallied up the money spent banning and seizing books and researching plans to build a monstrous statue and presented it to the masses, suggesting to use the money to build sturdy homes, reduce waste in the streets, and improve educational prospects for underprivileged children, the voting public may just choose what’s best for them and not a gimmick.
Hey! Unfortunately, U.S. states ban books, too. This list will surprise you.