First Published on NewsYaps
“If you don't want a man unhappy, don't give him two sides to a question to worry him; give him one. Better yet, give him none.”
--Captain Beatty, Fahrenheit 451
On the day Wendy Doniger’s The Hindus: An Alternative History was withdrawn by publisher Penguin under pressure from right-wing fundamentalists, it would seem rather apt to recall Ray Bradbury’s dystopic novel, Fahrenheit 451, describing a future where books are banned altogether and "firemen" hunt down and burn any that are found. And while parallels between the India of today and Bradbury’s vision are a dime a dozen, what’s interesting are the striking similarities between the character of Captain Beatty, the fire chief who hates books for forcing us to think and Dinanath Batra, chief petitioner in the case which forced Penguin to withdraw The Hindus.
A lot of people have reacted to the news of a book being banned or withdrawn with confusion. Confounded, they ask why anyone would do such a thing. What’s the point?
To answer that we would have to delve a bit into the personal history of our modern-day, desi Captain Beatty, Mr Dinanath Batra.
A lot of us might not know off Mr Batra or might have heard of him for the first time during this controversy. Dinanath Batra, though, is a very old player at this game.
Batra is—no prizes whatsoever for guessing—a member of the RSS. And not an ordinary member, mind you. He heads the Vidya Bharati Akhil Bharatiya Shiksha Sansthan, the educational arm of the RSS. As per its own statistics, the organisation runs over 13 thousand school in almost 600 hundred districts across India.
Apart from his pioneering and thorough work in setting up these school which, as per Vidya Bharati’s website, would act as an alternative to “Christian convent-schools” and spread education “which has its roots in Hindutva”, Batra first hit the headlines approximately a decade back when the RSS’ political arm, the BJP was in power.
When the BJP took power in 1999 they came in with a clear agenda with regard to education: saffronise it. In this endeavour, Batra led the vanguard, attacking history textbooks authored by Romila Thapar, RS Sharma, Satish Chandra and Arjun Dev for being “against Indian culture”. In a book edited by Mr Batra, called The Enemies of Indianisation: The Children of Marx, Macaulay and Madarsa one can find an article listing 41 "distortions" in the NCERT books. As luck would have it, the NCERT director at the time, JS Rajput was a contributor to the book as well. And, of course, the education ministry was headed by dyed-in-the-wool swayamsevak, Murli Manohar Joshi. As a result, so impressed was the BJP government with this book and its “distortions” that it took notice of them and proceeded to act. On the orders of the Central Board of Secondary Education a number of “offensive” passages were deleted from NCERT textbooks.
Flush with victory, our man, Mr Batra explained these deletions with some impeccable logic: ‘Jesus Christ was a najayaz (illegitimate) child of Mary but in Europe they don’t teach that. Instead, they call her Mother Mary and say she is a virgin’.
After tackling this issue and getting the BJP government to bend to his demand, Mr Batra shifted his attention to a universally acknowledged problem: the presence of sex education. In a country where overpopulation and STDs are major problems, Mr Batra has threatened a massive agitation against sex education and warned of an “an attempt to impart sex-education through pornography, radio and television”.
It is little wonder that in the petition submitted against The Hindus by Mr Batra, one of his charges is that the book’s approach to “Hindu scriptures has been sexual“ something the petition tries to explain by claiming that Doniger’s “approach is that of a woman hungry of sex”.
Now someone being a raving crank is hardly front page news. God knows there are enough of them everywhere. What is disconcerting is the level of power a person of his views enjoys within an organisation such as the RSS. Although, again, that in itself is nothing particularly surprising. Given that the RSS considers gentlemen like Golwalkar to be thoughtleaders, the real surprise would be if the organisation could ever produce a person who can think straight. Antediluvian ideologues such as the ones Batra holds, I dare say, are the RSS norm rather than the exception.
The scary, dystopic bit though is that these crank and fundamentalists have been given access to the highest levels of political power. Batra, a person who thinks Doniger is wrong because her approach is a symptom of her “hunger for sex”, was a person who drove thinking for the education ministry on what they should or should not include in textbooks that would shape the minds of millions of children across the country.
And of course, Batra is small fry really. Our main opposition party and one that would, in all probability, hold the reigns of the next federal government is controlled structurally to a large extent by the RSS and is staffed almost completely by people who have gone through and have had their worldview shaped by the RSS.
Somehow, one gets the feeling that this book “withdrawal” is just a trailer. Picture to abhi baqi hai, mere dost.