Thursday, October 21, 2010

Rohinton Mistry Book Banning Causes International Furor

The banning by the University of Mumbai of Rohinton Mistry's Booker-nominated 1991 debut novel, Such a Long Journey, has drawn international attention, as well as outrage from writers organizations in the Canadian author’s country. The Writers’ Union of Canada and PEN Canada have called on the University of Mumbai to reverse its decison. From CBC:
A university vice-chancellor in Mumbai pulled the book from a second-year bachelor of arts reading list last month because of complaints from students who support right-wing political party Shiv Sena.

Mistry's novel follows the story of a family struggling to get by in 1970s India, and there are descriptions of Shiv Sena's violent tactics.

PEN Canada said it was “deeply concerned” at reports of book-burning and censorship at the University of Mumbai.
But as Nina Martyris points out in The Guardian, some good is likely to come from all the attention:
If there is a redeeming feature to this sorry episode, it is the quality of protest it has provoked. Redeeming because the Shiv Sena, which has a reputation for violence, is rarely countered. An online petition is being circulated, book readings held and bookstores deluged with orders for the novel. In a written statement, Dr Frazer Mascarenhas, the Jesuit principal of St Xavier's College which Mistry attended and where Aditya Thackeray is currently enrolled, asked the all-important question: "Is it not unreasonable, that literature is banned merely because it dares to critique us?"

Mistry sent in his response from his home in Canada. In an eloquent and erudite statement that was carried on the front pages of India's leading newspapers, Mistry recalled Rabindranath Tagore's rousing poem about freedom. In stinging but measured prose, he admonished the vice-chancellor for being "silent on the matter of moral responsibility". He did not name the vice-chancellor, addressing instead the high office of the chair and the "abuse" of its powers. For the young Thackeray, he had some haunting Conradian wisdom: step back from the abyss, or go over the edge.
The response from Mistry that Martyris mentions is included in a press release from the author’s Canadian publisher here. January Magazine’s 2003 interview with Mistry is here.



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