India: Does it make sense to pulp books? by Ashutosh Varshney


(The writer is Sol Goldman Professor of International Studies and the Social Sciences and director of the India Initiative at Brown University; a contributing editor for the Indian Express; and author, most recently, of Battles Half Won: India’s Improbable Democracy.)

So another book has died a premature death in India. Or, has it?

To be precise, it is only a half death, for the book’s digital edition continues to be available to electronic users. A banned book often generates intensely greater curiosity than a book in normal circulation.In the past, a ban often meant the end of a book’s life or a desperate search for it in foreign markets. Today, India has nearly 150 million Web users. If even a small proportion — their curiosity aroused by the ban and the charges of luridness — orders the digital edition, thousands more will have read the book. Unless India becomes a China or a Saudi Arabia, digital access to unwelcome materials simply cannot be eliminated. Dinanath Batra, the head of the Shiksha Bachao Andolan Samiti, with links to the RSS, is operating in an old world. Banning a book today is self-defeating, at least in part.

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