Across the world, books are banned for all kinds of reasons. When it comes to children’s books, the only reasons I’ll accept are sex and violence—sex because it might confuse them, and violence because it might traumatise them.
I remember demurring when my daughter wanted to read The Bluest Eye at an early age. I found it a deeply disturbing book and I wasn’t sure she could handle it. But her teacher sensibly told me to let her. ‘Talk to her after she has read it,’ she advised. ‘It’s better than her reading it secretly and not having anyone to talk to about what she’s feeling.’
I wish more teachers would be as sensible. The recent spate of book-bannings in India has me flummoxed. Schools seem to arbitrarily ban books, on the flimsiest of pretexts. Some books are banned because the protagonist is a ‘bad’ character, some are banned because the protagonist is neither bad nor good (teaches no values then, you see), some are banned because of the quality of the humour (only non-toilet humour, not directed at people, is allowed. Huh?) …
Most of the time it seems like books are banned because they show children as they are – sometimes bad, sometimes potty-mouthed, sometimes plain nasty.
If we want children to read, the least we can do is let them choose what they want to read: if we decide for them, and only let them read books that are bowdlerised to the point of boredom, they will never learn to love books.
The whole idea of banning books reeks of the misuse of the power and authority that schools and parents have over children. Curtailing choice in order to protect the child is one thing; curtailing it in order to impose one’s notion of moral values on the child is unacceptable.
But it’s a thin line, and it’s often the case that those who misuse power claim to do it in the name of protecting innocence.
Just take a look at three books banned in the US in recent years (and the reasons thereof):
Harry Potter: promotes witchcraft and the main character has no moral story arc
Bridge to Terabithia: Profanity, encouraged disrespect of adults, death being central to the plot, encouraged secular humanism and/or satanism and blending of fantasy and reality.
Captain Underpants: Insensitivity, encouraged disrespect towards adults and age inappropriate.
In Kerala it was The Wimpy Kid, in some schools in Maharashtra it was Horrid Henry and Captain Underpants, and in Mumbai there are schools that ban any book wih the word ‘ghost’ or ‘magic’ in them.
What next? one wonders. Bambi?