If you are a Potterhead, you probably had that mandatory phase in your childhood when reciting Harry Potter spells was your idea of fun. The Harry Potter series, written by J.K. Rowling, is one of the most popular favourites among children. Through her seven works of genius, she weaved magic (quite literally) and created a whole new world for us to be a part of— so much so that ardent Potterheads find any word against it offensive. However, the fact that this ‘magic’ led the series to be the crux of a lot of debates might not be known to many. Certain groups of people felt that the series should be banned because it was believed to promote witchcraft.
Obviously, this is not the only series to have been proposed to be banned. Every year, a number of books are either banned, or are on the brink of getting banned. A book is banned when there is something objectionable in the content it caters. Depending on the context, a book may be banned in schools, libraries, bookstores, towns, or even countries. While the decision about whether or not a book is to be banned varies from one place to another, the reasons for the ban are mostly quite generic. Books are akin to paradise for most of us, and every good book leaves us yearning for more, but critics have an unfailing eye for objectionable content, even in the leaves of that perfect book you just read.
Racial themes have always been a subject of heated debate, leading to a number of books being banned. The most popular examples are To Kill a Mockingbird, and The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. While some books may be quite justifiably banned, another book exploring a racial theme may be banned because of the use of the N-word, even if the book essentially intends to discourage racism!
The society we live in dictates a certain code of conduct, and we, as social beings, are expected to adhere to it. While a lot of minds have given way to liberal thinking, a large number of groups believe in being conservative. Books that have content stating or implying a lifestyle which goes against the code are bound to face controversy, if not be entirely banned. Go Ask Alice is one such book, which was banned in high schools in a lot of places because it illustrated drug use. Now, here is the point: this book was aimed at educating the readers about the detrimental effects of drug use, including homelessness, rape, prostitution, admission to an asylum and even death.
A lot of times, the content of a book and its target age group do not tie. Consequently, sexual content easily makes its way into the whole ban debate. Violence and negativity are a reason of objection because they often leave a very disturbing impact on the mind of the reader. A book may be banned because it explores extreme political philosophies, like fascism and anarchy. Blasphemy and general profanity, obviously, result in bans on certain books. If a book has content against God, it goes against the emotions and disregards the faith of a large number of people. One of the most popular series, The Chronicles of Narnia, has been a controversial one because certain groups of people felt that the book ‘animalises’ Christ. A very violent example in this regard is undoubtedly the ‘Rushdie affair’. Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses was deemed sacrilegious by many Muslims. This was so intense that in 1989, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini of Iran issued a fatwa ordering Muslims to kill Rushdie.
While certain bans are quite justified, one group’s objection is no reason to keep it away from others. As for content inappropriate for children, books are teachers in themselves. We cannot deny that they may instil certain age-inappropriate thoughts, ideas or habits, but at the same time, they prepare children for the harshness they are eventually going to be exposed to. The controversies on books are revisited regularly, because very often, objection to content stems out of misinterpretation. As a result, many books are struck down from the banned list, while a number of new ones are added to it. Above all, what matters is our own judgement. Do not be opinionated against a book simply because it has been banned. Whether or not we like a book depends on our judgement alone, which is definitely not defined by bans.
– Priyanjali Roychoudhury, for MTTN
Photograph by: Nandadeep Paul, for MTTN