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Updated: March 31, 2011 02:15 IST

Ban will be a greater insult: Tushar

Amruta Byatnal
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 Tushar Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. File photo
The Hindu Tushar Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi. File photo

Joseph Lelyveld's Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle With India is the latest book the Maharashtra government has decided to ban in spite of having faced charges of suppressing freedom of expression in the past.

On Tuesday, the government said it would take steps to ban the book by the Pulitzer Prize-winning former editor of The New York Times.

Although the book has not yet been released in India, reviews published in the media have created a controversy over description of the Mahatma as a ‘racist' and ‘bisexual'.

Union Law Minister M. Veerappa Moily, who was in Pune on Tuesday, said: “The book denigrates the national pride and leadership. We will not tolerate this. We will consider prohibiting the book.”

However, the Mahatma's great-grandson Tushar Gandhi has opposed the ban.

“If the government of Maharashtra bans the book, it will be a greater insult to Bapu than that book or the author might have intended. I will challenge the ban,” Mr. Gandhi tweeted.

Pointing out that he was against the culture of banning books, Mr. Gandhi said: “How does it matter if the Mahatma was straight, gay or bisexual? Every time he would still be the man who led India to freedom.”

Shrinking liberal space

Banning books is not new in Maharashtra, where civil society has criticised the shrinking liberal space.

In 2004, the government banned Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, written by the American author James Laine, under pressure from pro-Maratha outfits.

The book had controversial references to Shivaji's biological father.

The ban, however, was overruled by the Supreme Court, which in July 2010, upheld the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression.

However, under pressure from various organisations, the government went ahead with its plan, ensuring that the publisher, Oxford University Press (OUP), did not bring out the book in the market.

Succumbing to pressure

The same year, succumbing to pressure from the Shiv Sena youth wing, Mumbai University dropped Rohinton Mistry's Such a Long Journey from its syllabus, alleging that the book contained remarks derogatory to Maharashtrians. Even then, the State government had criticised of being a mute spectator to the incident.

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Mr Tushar Ghadhi is right. The book should not be banned even if the controversial part happened to be true. As many said, Ghandhiji is purely a human being like everyone but he is a great human being who was capable of leading the people of India fighting against a mighty empire winning the independence. Regardless of such interpretation by the writer in the book, Gandhiji will remain greater for ever and his teachings will always give inspiration to all the Indians.

from:  Mohamm
Posted on: Apr 4, 2011 at 20:22 IST

It is so refreshing and uplifting to see Tushar Gandhi coming out so strongly that this book should not be banned. Let this voice take more strength from the many of us who also feel the same way, let us look at everything objectively, analyse and be open to criticism, and comments. Ultimately, the truth will prevail, and falsehoods will fail. Our Father of the ntion, Mahatma Gandhi, will certainly want this book published, and we should reverse this bad trend currently in vogue of banning books, and start discussion of many issues non-controversially and lucidly, passionately but without violence and disruption. Let us sit down, and discuss this book, read it if you want, but not to ban it, and others like it.

from:  Dr Girish Kumar
Posted on: Apr 4, 2011 at 01:15 IST

Gandhiji was a normal person. He was neither gay nor was he a bisexual.Joseph Lelyveld, Tushar Gandhi and other riff raffs should be banned from writing on Gandhiji. Liberty is not licence. Ask them to stop their nonsense.

from:  Venkatachalam
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 20:13 IST

It's a sad day for India because now anybody can write whatever they want which is without any fact. Banning the book is not about being democratic or being patriotic. It's a usual trend of foreign authors to write controversial things for publicity. Banning the book might not be an answer but having a legal course of action would be a solution. If he can write so much about Gandhiji, he can also explain how he has come up with such an excellent idea.

I think Tushar should challenge him in court.

For me its simple, since quite long, we are getting used to people who stick their finger in our face and say its cool. i guess its time to tell them stop messing around with Indians, our culture, history and religion, something calls for a payback now.

from:  Abhijeet Deshmukh
Posted on: Apr 3, 2011 at 18:58 IST

It would be a sad day for India if the book is banned. We will go exactly against what Gandhi has taught us. I am sure he himself would not have wanted to ban the book.
There have been numerous politicians who have thrown slur on Gandhi's achievements and they are still in power. So when a strong politician does it - we don't bother because we are scared to retaliate, but with book like this it is simple and we can prove to our people that we are great patriots!
Don't use Gandhi's name to prove your patriotism! Gandhi has shown what you can do if you are willing to learn from your experiences.
Come on fellow Indians lets us not allow a few bigoted politicians to hijack our freedom to choose to read what we want to.

from:  Ravi
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 23:30 IST

I agree with Tushar that the book should not be banned.Do we really have democracy? freedom of expression is a must though it should be with responsibility. Let the readers decide, why ban it. Even if Joseph Lelyveld's writtings contain truth, i just ask one simple question, was Bapu a God? No,He was just a comman man like us, and he din't achieve all that with his sexual habbits. Wake-up people. Just let his soul rest in peace.

from:  Lalit Bhatia
Posted on: Apr 2, 2011 at 10:34 IST

NOBODY has a real democracy. We, like others, are not doing too badly. But then many many Indians can only write crude, nasty things about their country, right? Banning the book is wrong. Gandhi wrote about his struggles,his own growth and understanding. He was not God and changed his opinion when it was wise to do so. His Victorian, colonial education gave him certain beliefs about race, sexuality, and aggression and he changed as he went along. No, he was human, not immaculate! His candour, his willingness to strive, to find a good way of living are worth studying. No, he was not god, like some claim their political/religious/royal leaders are. It is interesting and noteworthy how an ordinary person, someone like you or me, could strive, grow and achieve greatness.

from:  Bharati
Posted on: Mar 31, 2011 at 23:04 IST

Writing controversial things about great personalities to seek attention and make the subject sell - I think this fact has been totally ignored in this article. Freedom of expression and speech is not absolute, and it has to be exercised with great responsibility. Unfortunately, the current trends in society indicate that freedom is being taken for granted. Books are written on personalities like Shivaji and Gandhi, which cast a slur on their reputation, and also bring perversity into picture - it does not matter whether the book is well researched or not, whether it's factual or not. Using the space for interpretation and speculation, mindless theories are came up with - and not surprisingly they are either regarding sexuality(Gandhi,Nehru) or personal and family life(Shivaji). One cannot beseech or bury the controversies ignited by such obnoxious claims by a law or a judgment alone. Laws and judgments should also set precedent in terms of interest of the larger public. A good example is this article itself. The article quotes "The book had controversial references to Shivaji's biological father" - what research has been done before coming up with this statement? The book contained references to Shivaji's parenthood which are utterly unacceptable. Not references to biological father.

from:  Sagar
Posted on: Mar 31, 2011 at 11:42 IST

In a democratic society you don't ban books, that's a freedom of expression. Basic right. But, we do not have a real democracy, do we?

from:  Uday
Posted on: Mar 31, 2011 at 05:35 IST

I believe Tushar is right that no book should be banned. I also agree that it did not matter what Gandhi's sexual orientation was but it is good for people to see the other human side if this truly did happen, and some of the struggles that Gandhi faced on his spiritual path of Satyagraha. Often everyone wishes to believe only what they wish to believe regardless of evidence or documentation - we are all drinking kool-aid in other words to some extent because most the spiritual masters have or had struggles with their sexuality- there were/are only a rare few who have/did not. My personal experience with the great Sufi Master for instance has opened my eyes to what spiritual teachers do behind closed doors that most their followers are too blind or not willing to see, and therefore do not believe. Does this make masters all together bad people? I don't think so, but it does make them normal and so many people have a hard time accepting this because they want some type of God or Goddess to worship or follow who holds high ideals. Most of these Masters' lives in printed copy are painted gloriously in the ways we would like or hope to see them- this is also what sells. For instance with Mother Theresa- those who worked closely with her in the child adoption world knew that she discriminated among Hindu families seeking to adopt children and would prefer placing children in Christian or Catholic homes only. Does this make her a bad person? No, however she had cultural baggage yet still did a lot of good. All in all, most saints and leaders have baggage and if we can just learn to accept it and still recognize their strengths and achievements, then we are able to see both sides more realistically... then maybe we can see that we are also capable of such actions and can make changes in the world if we could just apply ourselves. So does our sexual-orientation inhibit our paths? I don't think so, however most people struggle in life with animal instincts, impulses and self-control and we should learn how to manage these, so that we can get on with the bigger things in life. I give credit to Gandhi for at least trying to do this despite his human struggles on this path of relativity.

from:  Ang
Posted on: Mar 31, 2011 at 05:19 IST
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