The nexus of power within various fields refuses to acknowledge the existence of realities outside their worldview.
The book on the Delhi Riots has been withdrawn by Bloomsbury after pressure from known influencers. This should come as no surprise. It is also perhaps for the first time that such a thing is happening. No books after a riot ever faced this problem as far as memory goes. They pedalled only one point of view and were hailed as masterpieces. The victims and perpetrators were interchanged in the bargain and traded different roles by the author. No one questioned, no one intervened. Things have changed now so the higher-ups have a problem.
Books in history have been banned, withdrawn, and destroyed since time immemorial. Every emperor, pope or similar authority worth their salt, sorry faith, are scared of books that change the status quo. In India, as people begin to awaken and arise and question the false narratives thrust upon them, our ex-masters who controlled our thoughts are threatened. Printed matter, therefore, is its first casualty since the digital world is not fully so.
It doesn’t matter for them what is expressed in the book. What matters most is that it should not threaten the power structure that they have built and if they feel reading it would change that, words like secularism and some phobias have to be raised.
A famous philosopher had once said that in a free society no one should come between an idea and its audience. As a new idea emerges in a sleeping mass of people, those that led it have to be curtailed first. We have that taking place at a frightening pace where it is blocked, prevented from taking roots and its questioning is labelled as being anti-secular and suppressed under the guilt of minorities being under threat. The goal is the same each time. It is to prevent the majority from doing introspection and asking questions, a power taken away because of centuries of slavery. Is that the reason that in one of our oldest parties, its aged leaders still stand as schoolboys before their headmistress?
The Nazis stole, destroyed the books of the Jews as a priority in Europe as part of destroying the entire Jewish civilization. They knew that they couldn’t do so as long as a single library of Jews remained. The books, the library were their pride and identity despite having no homeland. The Nazis looted every great library in Europe and millions of Jewish books were transported so that they could take over the Jewish wisdom. They knew that as long as even a few Jews remained, they could revitalise again with their books, such was the power of books. Only then did they turn to send them to the gas chambers.
When the English left our shores, they saw to it that they left us with no imagination to become a free society, a people who can think for themselves to shake away a slave mindset. They had done so expertly by destroying any literature where an Indian could feel whole and a free being. The leadership after independence crippled us further, intellectually and morally, so that Indians, a defeated race, didn’t try and look for its roots and pride. The lead was taken by State-appointed historians and led to the absence of any culture for writers who would document, whose works could have aroused a people.
When my book ‘The Infidel Next Door’ was first published, I had sent it to one of the largest selling newspapers from Delhi for a book review. One of their reviewers who read it said she liked it as sensitive literature. She came over to interview me and after it was concluded said that it was one of the most beautiful narratives she had read. She left saying that it will be published in the next edition. It didn’t happen. When I contacted her, she said she had submitted it and doesn’t know. After that, there was only silence. Much later I got to know that the higher-ups had rejected it.
The publisher in news right now did a similar thing with my book. After submitting my manuscript to them, I was told that it meets all the standards of rich literature and a powerful narrative. That it has been sent for approval to higher-ups. The approval never came. I was to learn later why. The higher-ups had rejected it saying the story was one-sided. Another reviewer from a newsmagazine said that even though the book can be called a book of courage, the higher-ups will not agree for it to be included.
Who are these so-called higher-ups? Why do they reject the alternate point of view that tries to rise? The so-called higher-ups in publishing, in the film industry, in academics in India have become an institution in themselves occupying their self-defined intellectual space, whose purpose is to see that only a single narrative remains dominant. They have bought over, paid for a hatchet job with allurements to ensure that the voice of a people remains suppressed and throttled, not to find expression.
Almost every publisher I met had told me a similar story. “Your book is good but my higher-ups won’t approve.” One publisher told me your book is dangerous because it would lead to people beginning to think, to have an imagination that things can be otherwise. “What is wrong with a mature society and its imagination?” I had asked. She had smiled and asked, “Don’t you know what has been said about imagination by great writers.”
Einstein had said once that imagination is the root of all creation. Slavery and colonialism took it away from us, snatching and cutting us off from our roots. It is known to rulers that when people begin to imagine, it can lead to revolution, threaten their power as has been done in every age. Before slavery, Indians were a free society too who used their imagination to create some of the finest works of literature, art and sculptor inspired by dharma. Our imagination linked to temples reached the highest expression in the annals of mankind.
When a society undergoes a transformation like ours is doing now, the first to be targeted are its authors, its poets and their books. Every totalitarian ruler has first tried to kill authors whom they saw as dangerous because they provoked, asked questions that their society was not supposed to. Steeped in denial and coming out of its silence, when people finally begin to question, it becomes dangerous for those who have lived by creating darkness, a shadow around their own people.
The British saw to it that the Indians did not develop the critical mind that came from reading books, mostly fiction which they wrote and read in plenty. That was an integral part of Macauley and his thinking which wanted nothing of Indians but to remain clerks. ‘Why should clerks read fiction?’ he must have asked.
Books have been an agent of change and many a society has ever remained the same after a raw nerve was touched of a people whose time had finally come. Books don’t let people and their minds remain in a status quo. The silencing of the new authors of books in present-day India has to be seen as part of that mindset. I pray and hope that we as people see and understand it sooner rather than later so that we don’t fail those who are trying to raise a voice for us.
A reader once asked me, “How can then the truth ever come out with such opposition?” I answered,
“It is always the unknown reader who has sustained the cause of freedom worldwide much like the unknown soldier does it at the border. The reviews that they send, the word of mouth that goes around despite no big publicity or banners sustains the flame alive.”
This morning when I opened my book’s page on Amazon, I saw that an unknown reader has sent a review for my book:
“This is an amazing read and recommended for everyone who wants to put things in correct perspective. It does tell you why you feel apologetic as well as victimized at the same time.”
I want to say “Thank you, unknown reader. It is your words that remain as a testimony to the truth. No one can suppress your voice.”