An Indian language playlist-II

(For part one, click here: An Indian language playlist-I)

From the Doordarshan days and Katha Sagar, adaptations of the world’s short stories in Hindi:
Tolstoy’s Three Holy Men:

Shyam Benegal’s adaptation of an O Henry short story, The Last Leaf:

Kundan Shah’s adaptation of Karoly Kisfaludi’s The Invisible Wound:

Uday Prakash, reading from The Walls Of Delhi at the JLF:

The Language of Literature: Ambai, Benyamin, Sitanshu Yashchandra and Manil Suri in conversation with Udaya Narayan Singh at the JLF:

The Origin of Kannada as a literary language; U R Ananthamurthy, at the Azim Premji University

K Satchidandan, on Indian literatures, in the plural:

Girish Karnad’s speech in Konkani: Learn in your mother tongue, Indians have traditionally used different languages for different things, one for commerce, one for conversations etc.

An Indian language playlist

Across the community of writers worldwide, PEN’s many Centres work to preserve languages, to encourage translations, and to explore what it really means to enable the “transmission of thought” between many cultures and tongues.

PEN’s American Centre has an annual poetry Translation Slam. From 2013:


More from PEN America: three translator-authors, from Poland, Israel and the Czech Republic/ Spain discuss intellectual property rights and translations.:


PEN’s page on translations, below. Translators make up a very large percentage of the PEN community worldwide, and given India’s multilingualism, will be a significant part of the membership of both the PEN Centres in this country.


And this is a small playlist with some of India’s many tongues, and some conversations on translation, from various Indian literary festivals and bookstore events. All videos belong to the festivals/ organisations concerned.

Harish Trivedi’s Roundtable on Translation at the Hindi Urdu Flagship in 2011: Premchand’s Rangbhumi, Tulsidas’s Kavitavali, and a “mystery piece”.


Read the passages:

Kahani Kisko Kahta Hai? Script and Screenplay (at the JLF)

Javed Akhtar, Prasoon Joshi and Gulzar, moderated by Samit Basu

Arunava Sinha, at the Oxford Bookstore: “However we may want to pride ourselves as English speakers, we don’t live the language. The truth is that here in India we continue to live the language that is ours. If it comes to emotional connect, for me it’s Bangla—I am never moved as much by English as I am by Bangla.”


Vaidehi, Sarah Aboobacker and Benyamin talk about literature “South of the Vindhyas”, at the Hindu Lit for Life festival

Mahasweta Debi talking to publisher Naveen Kishore, at the JLF

 “My world is divided into needful and needless: I have cleaned house, washed clothes, washed the dishes, all of that. I love going places—Palamau, Purulia, tribal areas. But I find I am really happiest when I come back to my house, sit at the table.”


Meena Kandasamy on Dalits and the English language:


Chandrabhan Prasad on the Goddess of English:

 Meena Kandasamy, I dream of an English:


Dastangoi Mahmood Farooqui, storyteller and historian, reads Manto’s Murli ki Dhun:


(Continued in the next post…)

In Support of Professor UR Ananthamurthy: Statement from the PEN Delhi Centre

September 21, 2013

Professor UR Ananthamurthy, the highly respected Kannada writer, has been harshly attacked for expressing his considered opinion of Mr Narendra Modi, who is a prime ministerial candidate in the forthcoming elections. Some of these attacks have been made by leaders of the BJP, who have called Mr Ananthamurthy “undemocratic” for criticizing Mr Modi.

Some links:

Such attacks are not unusual; over the past decade, several Indian writers, artists, film-makers and ordinary citizens have been attacked and sometimes threatened by interest groups and political supporters from almost all of the country’s major parties, for acts of political criticism. All of us at the newly established PEN Delhi Centre would like to say that Mr Ananthamurthy does not stand alone, and nor do any members of the literary community who have faced threats for exercising their right to free expression. Criticising any leader, political party or indeed any institution is both a democratic right and part of an artist’s right to interrogate the world that he or she inhabits.

We believe that Mr Ananthamurthy and other Indian writers, as well as all Indian citizens, should be free to express their opinions of the political system, or individual politicians. We ask Indian politicians, across all parties, to actively support the discussion, debate and criticism so necessary to our democracy, and to cease what has become a tradition of attacks on India’s creative community.

And we stand together, as writers from all across India, to support Mr Ananthamurthy’s right to critical engagement, and to urge those political parties who disagree with his views to express their disagreement with civility, without violence or abuse. Every writer, and every citizen of India must be free to speak with honesty, and without fear, about the politicians who expect to represent the people.

-signed, Members of the PEN Delhi Centre

About the PEN Delhi Centre:

John Ralston Saul, president of PEN International, welcomed the new PEN Delhi Centre: “Creating a PEN Centre in Delhi recognizes the importance and the complexity  of Indian literature, of language rights and of the pressures on free expression.  The writers and publishers of this part of India have a major role to play at the international level in strengthening PEN’s role.”

The new PEN Centre in Delhi was formally recognized at the annual PEN Congress in Reykjavik, September 2013, where the writer Kiran Desai introduced the Centre and spoke about its aims. (See below.) The PEN Delhi Centre includes writers and publishers from all across Delhi and India, who work in several Indian languages including English.

We are delighted to announce PEN’s first list of members, and hope that this will grow to include many more writers, translators, editors and literary professionals. It would not have been possible to start the PEN Delhi Centre without their active support and encouragement: 

Anjum Hasan, Arunava Sinha, Benyamin, Chiki Sarkar, David Davidar, Devangshu Datta, Gauri Gill, Girish Karnad, Irfan Habib, Karthika VK, Kiran Desai, Leila Seth, Mahmood Farooqui, Mamang Dai, Meenakshi Ganguly, Nayantara Sahgal, Nikhil Mehra, Nikhil Pahwa, Nilanjana Roy, Nirmala Lakshman, Mukul Kesavan, Rachna Davidar, Ravi Singh, Romila Thapar, Shovon Chowdhury, Sudeep Chakravarti, Thomas Abraham, Vikram Seth.

The need for an organisation in India that connects writers in order to both celebrate the word and protect its free expression has been strongly felt. Writers who join the global PEN International community believe that literature knows no frontiers, and that PEN stands for “the principle of unhampered transmission of thought” within each nation and between all nations.

To read the PEN Charter:

Timeline of book bans/ challenges and censorship in the arts in India

An indicative list of key bans and challenges in India since Independence, with an emphasis on writers and literature. This timeline will be updated as information becomes available, and is a work-in-progress; if you’d like to add any cases of bans/ censorship, please add a line and a citation in the comments.

Note: The 2000s saw a rise in Internet censorship, documented by The Hoot and other organisations in these links.

Censorship of online media: The Hoot’s timeline

Internet censorship in India: the Wiki page

India’s downward spiral: The EFF page on rising online censorship

Privacy, surveillance and the Indian government: Pranesh Prakash in India Ink

1930s | 1940s | 1950s | 1960s | 1970s | 1980s | 1990s | 2000-2010 | 2010- |


August 2013: Kannada writer Yogesh Master is arrested for his novel Dhundi: The Story of a Forester Becoming Ganapathi, on the charge that his depiction of Ganesha is “offensive to religious sentiments”, an offence under Sec 295(a).

August 2013: Nine VHP members are arrested for vandalizing an art exhibition in Ahmedabad, and destroying/ damaging artwork by Pakistani artists.

May 2013: The state government of Tamil Nadu bans Dalit writer K. Senthil Mallar’s History of the Pandiyar Resurgence (Meendezhum Pandiyar Varalaru), on the grounds that it contains “material of false, objectionable and distorted facts criticising all communities in mala fide remarks that would affect public peace and tranquillity and cause caste disharmony, hatred and ill-will among various castes”. The case is in court.

May 2013: Artists protest the arrest of poets and singers from the Kabir Kala Manch in Mumbai, who were arrested under the anti-terrorism act and accused of having Naxal links. Artists claim they were arrested for singing protest songs against the government.

February 2013: VHP activists briefly shut down a show of nudes at the Delhi Art Gallery, alleging obscenity, but the show re-opens under police protection and runs for the next month without further violence.

January 2013: Salman Rushdie is prevented from coming to the Kolkata Literary Festival by the state government. Reactions from writers and journalists are heavily critical of the government.

Ruchir Joshi, Children of a Dreadful Midnight:

Sandip Roy, The Shameful Truth About Kolkata:

July 2012: Amir Bashir’s film on Kashmir, Harud, runs into trouble when the Censor Board objects to promos that feature protagonists against a backdrop that reads ‘Azaadi’ (Freedom).

April 2012: In West Bengal, a university professor is arrested for posting a cartoon critical of the Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, on his Facebook page.

March 2012: Delhi’s art community protests after an exhibition of photographs by Sunil Gupta is shut down when a viewer complains that the photographs are offensive. The photographs are an exploration of gay life called ‘Sun City and other stories’.

26th January 2012: After running into trouble with the Indian Censor Board with his earlier films, Ashvin Kumar releases Inshallah Kashmir online for free on Republic Day.

Anand Patwardhan on the censor board:

January 2012: Threats of violence by a handful of protestors prevent Salman Rushdie from coming to or addressing writers and readers at the annual Jaipur Literature Festival.
Four writers, Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru, Ruchir Joshi and Jeet Thayil, read extracts from Rushdie’s Satanic Verses in a gesture of solidarity and protest at the festival, sparking controversy.
Read more:

January 2012: Symbiosis University in Pune cancels a screening of Sanjay Kak’s Jashn-e-Azadi, a film on Kashmir, after members of the right-wing ABVP protest, saying that the film is anti-national and offends their sentiments.

January 2012: The Uttar Pradesh government bans performances of a play called ‘My Sandal’, for violating the election code of conduct. The play is widely assumed to satirise the corruption and expensive tastes of UP chief minister Mayawati.

November 2011: An exhibition of Korans in Delhi is shut down after All-India Muslim Personal Law Board member Kamaal Farooqui and Syed Yahya Bukhari, brother of the Shahi Imam of Jama Masjid, along with their supporters denounced the event for “wrongly interpreting the tenets of Islam and the holy Quran”.

October 2011: Delhi University’s Academic Council drops A.K. Ramanujan’s essay 300 Ramayanas from the Delhi University B.A. syllabus, chiefly due to pressure from right-wing organizations.

July 2011: Screenings of Nina Paley’s Sita Sings The Blues cancelled in New York after protests from the Forum for Hindu Awakening.

March 2011: The state of Gujarat bans Joseph Lelyveld’s biography of Gandhi, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India. Despite the state ban, Union law minister Moily rules out the possibility of a ban on the book from the Centre. “”There is no question of banning the book as the author has clarified that he has not written what has been attributed to the book,” Moily is reported to have said.


October 2010: Copies of Rohinton Mistry’s novel Such A Long Journey are burnt and a 24-hour notice was given to vice chancellor Dr Rajan Welukar to drop the novel from the second year syllabus of Mumbai University. Bal Thackeray’s grandson, Aditya Thackeray, leads the protest, complaining that the book contains “anti-Shiv Sena” passages. The complaint later shifts to the charge that Such A Long Journey offends the sensibilities of Maharashtrians. Mumbai University issues notices to all colleges dropping the novel from the syllabus.

October 2010: Writer Arundhati Roy faces sedition charges after speaking on Kashmir at a symposium. A month later, in November, a mob of BJP Mahila Morcha activists attacks her house.

End-2009: Legal experts acting on behalf of Sonia Gandhi send the author of The Red Sari, Javier Moro, an email alleging that portions of his book are false and defamatory. In 2010, Congress loyalists agitate and burn effigies of Moro, demanding that publication of the book in India be stopped, but the controversy dies out.

August 20, 2009: The Narendra Modi government in Gujarat bans Jaswant Singh’s Jinnah-India, Partition, Independence, on the grounds that it tarnishes the image of Sardar Patel. In September, the Gujarat High Court overturns the ban, saying that the State needs to have more respect for the fundamental rights of citizens.

July 8, 2009: The Chattisgarh state government bans the late Habib Tanvir’s play, Charandas Chor, written in Chattisgarhi with a 20-year record of performances in the state, on the grounds that it shows the followers of the Satnami Panth community in a bad light.

February 2008: The UP government bans Jaishree Misra’s Rani, a work of historical fiction, on the grounds that it contains “highly objectionable” material about Rani Lakshmibai’s personal life–ie, a reference to a (fictionalised) chaste romance between Lakshmibai and a British officer.

July 2006: Members of the Bangladeshi community in London march in protest against Monica Ali’s “misrepresentation” of Sylheti life in her novel, Brick Lane. The protests fizzle out, and the film version of Brick Lane is released in 2007.
January 2006: The Maharashtra government had banned the sale and circulation of yet another James Laine book, The Epic of Shivaji, for derogatory observations on the Maratha warrior king. The book is a translation of a 300-year-old Sanskrit epic, Shivbharat, commissioned by Shivaji himself to celebrate his life.
On the James Laine controversy:

Film: 2006, seven states (Nagaland, Punjab, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh) ban the release and exhibition of The Da Vinci Code. Many of the state high courts have since overturned the ban.

September 2005: West Bengal High Court overturns the 2003 ban against Taslima Nasrin’s Dwaikhandito.
Over the next few years, Taslima, exiled from Bangladesh, faces protests and threats in India. Shunted from one place to another, surrounded by security and with the state unwiling to guarantee her safety, the author finally gives up on her hopes of settling in Bengal.

March 2004: Politician Gopinath Munde says that he was wrong to have asked for a ban on Jawaharlal Nehru’s Discovery of India, on the grounds that it contained passages derogatory to Shivaji.
In 2004, Eve Ensler’s “The Vagina Monologues” was banned in Chennai. The play however, has played successfully in many, many other parts of the country since 2003. A Hindi version of the play has been performing since 2007.

January, 2004: Over 150 activists from the Sambhaji Brigade attacked BORI, ransacking the building, defacing books and artworks, and destroying property.

-14 January: Despite the fact that OUP had already withdrawn Laine’s book from the Indian market two months earlier, the Maharashtra government moved — eventually successfully — to have Laine’s book banned, again citing Sections 153 and 153A of the Indian Penal Code.

-16 January: Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee speaks out against the book-ban on Shivaji.

April 2004: The Kerala High Court upholds a 1991 ban on the staging of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Jesus Christ Superstar. The original 1991 order says that the musical “is both sacrilegious and blasphemous, which would outrage the religious feeling of Christians.”

2004: the film Final Solution, which looks at religious riots and the Hindu-Muslim riots is banned by the Indian Censor Board, which calls it “highly provocative”. The ban is eventually lifted.

November, 2003: James Laine’s Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India published in India by Oxford University Press India in June, is withdrawn from the Indian market by the Press after protests from Hindu rightwing parties to the effect that Laine insulted Shivaji.

November 2003: The West Bengal government bans Taslima Nasrin’s Dwaikhandito on the grounds that its contents could inflame religious passions—“for the sake of maintenance of democracy” in Bengal. (In 2009, the Calcutta High Court overturns the ban.)

2003: the Indian Censor Board bans the film ‘Gulabi Aaina (The Pink Mirror)’, a film on Indian transsexuals produced and directed by Sridhar Rangayan. The censor board cited that the film was ‘vulgar and offensive’.

2002: Anand Patwardhan War and Peace, on nuclear testing, is asked to make 21 cuts before the film can be screened. Patwardhan objects, saying “If these cuts do make it, it will be the end of freedom of expression in the Indian media.” The courts declare the cuts unconstitutional.

2001: The BJP and the VHP urge their members to burn copies of historian D N Jha’s The Myth of the Holy Cow, just before the publication of the book. It is banned by the Hyderabad court on the grounds that “it might hurt religious sentiments”.

February 2000: The UP government orders filming on Water to cease, saying that it has “provoked civil disorder”.
February 14, 2000: Ayatollah Hassan Saneii, the head of the 15th of Khordad Foundation, reiterates that the death sentence remains valid and the foundation’s $2.6 million reward will be paid with interest to Rushdie’s assassins.
January 2000: A 2,000-strong mob burns down the set in Varanasi where Deepa Mehta’s Water is being filmed; it touches on the lives of widows in Varanasi. The Hindutva parties feel that it “shows Hindu culture in a bad light” to depict widows in the manner that Mehta has.

The 1990s:
Film and art were more often challenged in the 1990s than books or plays. (Additional material to come.)

1999: Maharashtra government banned the Marathi play ‘Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy” or ‘I am Nathuram Godse Speaking

1998: Hamish McDonald’s Polyester Prince, a life of Dhirubhai Ambani, banned.
September 1995: The customs sends a directive to Rupa & Co, asking it to stop distributing Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh because “the question of permissibility or otherwise of marketing the book was under the consideration of the Government of India”. Though there is no official ban, the book is not available in Maharashtra and elsewhere for many months.

Film: Mira Nair’s Kamasutra and Madhuri Dixit’s appearance in Khalnayak raise questions of obscenity and vulgarity; Shekhar Kapur’s Bandit Queen is challenged by the film censor board for its violence and the debate it fuels on caste; Mani Ratnam’s film, Bombay, on Hindu-Muslim riots, draws controversy.

1998: screenings of Deepa Mehta’s Fire are disrupted, the film-maker threatened and cinema halls attacked by protestors. The Shiv Sena led most of these protests. In 2000, Mehta and her crew are prevented from filming ‘Water’, on the grounds that her portrayal of child brides is offensive to Hindu sentiments.

Art: 1996: Paintings made by MF Husain in the 1970s and 1980s of Saraswati, Bharat Mata and other Indian deities come under attack after Hindu nationalist groups target the artist. In 1998, Husain’s house is attacked by Bajrang Dal activists. By 2006, the artist goes into exile, after exhibitions of his paintings have faced repeated attacks and after multiple cases have been filed against him in courts across the land by Hindu rightwing groups.

The 1980s:
Any book that misrepresented India’s borders was confiscated by Customs and released only after the offending frontiers had been manually “corrected”.

April 1989: Hindu militants threatened to kill M.M. Kalburgi, an Indian historian, for writing a Kannada-language book they claim blasphemes a 12th century saint. Kalburgi was given 24-hour protection by police in Dharwar in the southern state of Karnataka. A group of 43 Kannada writers and academics formed a committee in support of the book.

April 1989: customs authorities black out passages critical of Indira Gandhi’s regime in 500 imported copies of the Oxford Illustrated Encyclopaedia: World History from 1800 to the Present Day.

1988: On October 5 1988, the Indian Finance Ministry announced the banning of Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses under Section 11 of the Indian Customs Act, adding that the ban “did not detract from the literary and artistic merit of Rushdie’s work”. As with Stanley Wolpert’s Nine Hours to Ramayana and Aubrey Menen’s Ramayana Retold, this ban set a precedent, legal and cultural, for taking offended sentiments into consideration as a justification for banning a book.

October 1987: Maharashtra High Court bans Dr BR Ambedkar’s Riddles in Hinduism, an examination and questioning of some aspects of the faith, after some Hindu groups protest. In 1998, Dalit groups take out a Bheem March in Bombay, protesting the failure of the courts to lift the ban.

1986: PM Antony’s controversial play, The Sixth Holy Wound of Christ, is banned in Kerala after months of protests and debate. The play is based on Nikos Kazantzakis’ The Last Temptation of Christ.

1983: Morarji Desai obtained a temporary ban on Seymour Hersh’s The Price of Power: Kissinger and Nixon in the White House, which described Desai as a “star performer” for the CIA. The ban was eventually lifted, but by that time public interest in the book was on the wane. And Morarji Desai—who was then 93—gained much sympathy when Kissinger stepped up to testify on his behalf, stating unequivocally that Desai was no CIA spy.

1980: Writer Mridula Garg was arrested on charges of obscenity for a passage in her Hindi novel, Chitta Cobra. After two years in court, the charges were dropped.

The 1970s:

Politics, and what the state often saw as the misrepresentation of either India’s policies or its leaders, triggered most book bans in this decade. Former MI5 operative Greville Wynne upset MI5 and the Indian government when he published his memoirs, The Man From Moscow.

It was increasingly books that “misrepresented” India that were targeted. Desmond Steward’s Early Islam and Michael Edwards Nehru: A Political Biography were both banned in 1975 for what the government considered grievous factual errors, as were Charles Bettelheim’s India Independent and Alan Lawrence’s China’s Foreign Relations Since 1949.

Lourenco de Sadvandor’s incendiary, and sadly ill-researched, Who Killed Gandhi was banned in 1979, while the ban on Arthur Koestler’s scathing (but hardly well-informed) view of Eastern religion, The Lotus and the Robot, was carried over from the late ‘60s.

1974: Vijay Tendulkar’s Sakharam Binder banned two years after it pulls in full houses across Bombay. The Bombay High Court order overturning the ban is considered a landmark free speech judgement. Tendulkar’s Ghashiram Kotwal was also often challenged and banned in the 1970s.

Key bans:
Nehru, A Political Biography by Michael Edwards. Banned: Dec 13, 1975
India Independent by Charles Bettelheim. Banned: May 15, 1976
Who Killed Gandhi by Lourenco De Sadvandor. Banned: Dec 29,

The 1960s:

The most important ban of this decade, in retrospect, was the ban on Stanley Wolpert’s Nine Hours to Rama.

Wolpert’s analysis of Gandhi’s assassination had nothing to do with the Ramayana — it was his research into the gaps in the security arrangements surrounding the Mahatma, and the suggestion of conspiracy theories, that attracted the state’s censorship. This set a second, and equally dangerous, precedent, allowing the state to consider banning books that might deliver inconvenient insinuations about any ruling government.

Key book bans: Nine Hours to Rama by Stanley Wolpert. Banned: Sept 1, 1962
The Jewel in the Lotus (A Historical Survey of the Sexual Culture of the East). Banned: July 20, 1968
The Evolution of the British Empire and Commonwealth from the American Revolution by Alfred Le Ray Burt. Banned: Aug 9, 1969
A Struggle between Two Lines over the Question of How to Deal with US Imperialism by Fan Asid-Chu, Foreign Languages Press, Peking, 1965. Banned: Dec 6, 1969

The 1950s:

In the aftermath of Partition, the first bans on specific books from across the border came into force—Agha Babar’s play Cease-Fire, and a treatise on Somnath called Marka-e-Somnath, the newspaper Hamara Kashmir were typical of the Urdu writings from Pakistan that were put on the banned list. One of the oddities of this period was a book about a Saurashtrian freedom fighter, written by Kaluwank Ravatwank and published from Karachi—Bhupat Singh crops up with alarming regularity on the banned list. The ban on Robert W Taylor’s trashy and semi-pornographic Dark Urge went almost unnoticed.

1958: In a rare case, the Supreme Court banned DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover on the grounds of obscenity. In the absence of a process of review, the ban may still be in force.

1956: Now almost forgotten, Aubrey Menen was at one time something of a standard-bearer for his generation, known for the elegance of his mind and his somewhat baroque work. Ramayana Retold was a deconstruction of the Ramayana, told with Menen’s trademark refusal to respect pedestals and the icons that stood on them. In the 1950s, this became one of the first books to be banned by the Indian government on the grounds that it might offend religious sensibilities — opening the door to future displays of competitive intolerance.

March 1953: You Made Me A Communist, a popular Malayalam play, is banned by the government alleging that the play propagated “subversive ideas” and encouraged the people to “rebel against the government”. The ban is overturned in two months.

American Military Aid to Pakistan (its full implications) by Salahuddin Ahmad. Banned: July 31, 1954
What Has Religion Done for Mankind, Watch-tower Bible and Tract Society, New York. Banned: Feb 26, 1955
Dark Urge by Robert W. Taylor. Banned: Dec 29, 1955
The Ramayana by Aubrey Menen. Banned: Sept 29,

Captive Kashmir by Aziz Beg. Banned: April 19, 1958
The Heart of India by Alexander Campbell. Banned: March 11, 1959

The 1940s: British India/ Independent India

Moki Singh’s Mysterious India and Bernard Stern’s Scented Garden are fairly representative. Scented Garden was considered too sexually explicit (versions can still be found at pavement bookstalls, providing competition to the Kama Sutra). Mysterious India offered the usual stereotypes, some of them at least moderately offensive. The 1940s also saw early bannings of pamphlets containing material that was considered inflammatory to one or the other religion and politically seditious literature. In 1946, for example, the Customs notifications prohibited any reproduction of an issue of the journal Britannia and Eve, containing an article entitled Codijah the First and Devoted Wife of Mahomet, on the grounds that this might be offensive to the followers of Islam. Pamphlets offering a “neutral opinion” of Kashmir were also banned, on the grounds that these opinions were not as neutral as they seemed.

The status of these books in India remains uncertain. Some are still banned; in other cases, the bans have been overturned, but information on these is not freely available. In many cases, the book in question has dated and become irrelevant with the passage of time; in a few cases, the book remains relevant and what was once incendiary has now become innocuous.

Scented Garden (Anthropology of sex life in the Levant) by Bernhard Stern; translated by David Berger. Banned: August 18, 1945
Behind the Iron Curtain in Kashmir: Neutral Opinion (author not mentioned). Banned: Aug 27, 1949

The 1930s: Banned Books Under the Raj
Almost exactly 70 years since Katherine Mayo’s Mother India was placed on the list of banned books, the import of this “drain-inspector’s report” is still prohibited. More typical of books that incurred the disapproval of the State in pre-Independence India was Arthur Miles’ Land of the Lingam, a salacious “history” of sexuality in Eastern lands. Max Wylie’s Hindu Heaven was an intemperate expose of mission conditions in India, and was banned in 1934. Perhaps the most puzzling ban was the one placed on Frank Richards’ Old Soldier Sahib, an account of this veteran soldier’s pre-war army service in India. Richards was a friend of Robert Graves; his memoir of the Great War was never banned in India, and indeed, did extremely well. Old Soldier Sahib appears to have ruffled military feathers for its candid portrayal of life in the ranks.

Hindu Heaven by Max Wylie. Banned: April 28, 1934
The Face of Mother India by Katherine Mayo. Banned: January 18, 1936
Old Soldier Sahib by Private Frank Richards Banned: Aug 22, 1936
The Land of the Lingam by Arthur Miles. Banned: Oct 2, 1937

(Compiled by Nilanjana Roy)

Introducing PEN Delhi - by Kiran Desai

Kiran Desai’s speech introducing the PEN Delhi Centre at the PEN Congress in Reykjavik, September 2013 

It is a pleasure to be at the PEN Congress on behalf of the proposed PEN Centre in Delhi. Rachna Singh and Nilanjana Roy, who have helped to set up the proposed Centre, would like to express their deep regret at not being able to be in Iceland with all of you today. This is their statement about the Centre, and the processes they have gone through before this Congress. They would like to thank PEN International for its help and support through this process.

About the proposed Delhi Centre:

The idea of having a PEN Centre based in Delhi came about during a conversation between John Ralston Saul and Rachna Davidar in 

2010, when Rachna asked John if there was any likelihood of starting a Centre in New Delhi.

John thought that it would be an excellent idea and asked Rachna to get in touch with Ranjit Hoskote at the PEN All-India Centre, which is located in Mumbai, the largest city in the western part of India. Mr Hoskote suggested that it might make more sense to open a new Centre in Delhi rather than have a chapter of the ALL-India Centre, since India was too vast a country to be represented by a single PEN Centre. He felt that it would make more sense, operationally, administratively and in terms of representation. Aside from being India’s capital, Delhi is also the hub of the English-language publishing industry, and is the largest city in the north of the country.

In 2012 Haroon Siddiqui of PEN Canada came to Delhi to have a meeting with Rachna and provided her with the necessary guidelines to form the Centre in New Delhi and put her in touch with Paul Finegan at PEN International with whom she has worked closely since March 2013 to set up PEN Delhi. In Delhi, Rachna, who is a bookseller and now an organiser of literary festivals, worked along with Nilanjana Roy, a local writer and critic.

Rachna was also regularly in touch with John Ralston Saul and Haroon Siddiqui. Nilanjana and Rachna also asked Salil Tripathi (co-chair, Writers-at-Risk, English PEN) for his advice on several issues. They asked Salil whether he could request English PEN to support their application for PEN Delhi,  which they had decided upon after being assured that PEN Delhi would in no way be in conflict with PEN All India. Ranjit Hoskote at PEN All India will also support PEN Delhi’s application, as will  Charlie Foran, President of PEN Canada. 


The proposed PEN Delhi Centre has an eclectic mix of members, reflecting the wide range of writers and languages it intends to represent across India. Initially, Rachna Davidar and Nilanjana Roy sent out invitations to approximately 60 writers in English and other Indian languages, as well as to translators, publishers, academics, journalists, anti-censorship and human rights activists with history of engaging with free speech issues.

Of the roughly 30 writers who have accepted membership include Nayantara Sahgal, Vikram Seth, Sudeep Chakravarti and Irfan Habib, who write in English, the Kannada writer Girish Karnad, the Malayalam writer Binyamin, Mamang Dai and Anjum Hasan from the North-East; the translator Arunava Sinha; the jurist Leila Seth; the heads of Human Rights Watch and the media/ censorship watchdog group Medianama; the publisher Chiki Sarkar from Penguin; the novelist/publisher, David Davidar, from Aleph; the historians Romila Thapar and Irfan Habib; and many others. Several other writers have indicated their interest in PEN, but have not yet sent back membership forms.

Rachna and Nilanjana have asked existing PEN members to suggest the names of writers whom we could invite to join PEN Delhi in order to make it a truly effective Centre.Once the proposed Centre is confirmed, they hope to extend invitations to as many writers, translators, publishers, academics and free speech activists across North India as possible, with the only proviso being that they must be in agreement with PEN’s objectives as stated in the charter. Film-makers, artists, media editors, journalists and students who have a history of written publications may also be invited to join PEN in the next membership drive. As PEN Delhi’s membership expands, they intend to set up a membership committee at the time of the elections to ensure that PEN membership is available to all writers who need it, and who are in agreement with PEN’s objectives.

The Centre’s proposed list of activities

Subject to the constraints of fund-raising, the proposed PEN Delhi Centre’s members have indicated that these would be key areas of activity.

i) Our first priority would be to create a network of legal and media experts who can be approached to help writers directly under threats of violence and/ or of suppression of their works. We might try to work with Human Rights Watch India and similar organisations who already have expertise in this area. Several members, including some with legal experience, have volunteered to create a set of strategies that PEN Delhi can use in cases where freedom of expression is threatened, so that we can respond with speed as and when a festival, a bookshop, a writer or any member of the creative community finds themselves under threat in free expression cases.

ii) Working with colleges in the region to set up regular workshops and talks on what free speech and censorship mean in the context of our daily lives.

iii) Tie-ups with literary festivals across India, so that we have a PEN session on subjects such as censorship, creative freedoms and the importance of allowing a writer freedom to think, at most major festivals.

iv) Two annual PEN Delhi lectures

v) Banned Books Week: a campaign across Indian bookstores (September 22nd), drawing attention to books from across the world that were once banned or considered dangerous that are now in the public domain.

vi) February 14: Free Reads: events in open-air venues and public areas such as marketplaces where you invite students to read from challenged texts.

vii) PEN Addas: eight addas a year, with the aim on encouraging cross-discipline discussions on free expression as it is evolving in India—involving artists, film-makers, musicians and Internet experts as well as writers.

viii) A PEN website that archives timelines of censorship, the Censor Board, and creates a database of Indian laws/ cases/ jurisprudence on censorship.

ix) As a long-term goal, explore the possibility of resurrecting the public library network in India, or even starting new libraries in conjunction with organisations such as Pratham and the Ashoka Foundation. Work with corporates and perhaps NGOs/ government organisations to create a network of libraries across India, especially in the small towns.

If the Centre is ratified, we will follow election procedure as per the Constitution that has been adopted. Elections will be held as soon as possible once the Centre is made official.

From all of us in Delhi and other parts of India who have worked on the aims, objectives, membership and hopes for the proposed PEN Centre, thank you very much for giving us the opportunity to stand here in Reykjavik, asking for your support.

Over the last ten years, India has struggled with free speech issues: our rankings in the World Press Freedom reports have dropped precipitously, the government’s proposed laws on the Internet have raised concerns that they might curb essential freedoms. A rising climate of censorship and the rise of the politics of offence has made it hard for writers to exercise basic freedoms: the freedom to think, to criticize, to write without fear of reprisal or even violence.

As the PEN All-India Centre has done, the proposed Centre in Delhi hopes to set against this India’s long history of encouraging debate, enjoying argument, and tolerance for the written and spoken word. As the writer Vikram Seth said at the Kolkata Book Fair in 2012: “We cannot let them close our mouths and eyes and ears. We cannot let them break the pen or ration the ink. May the pen flourish.”

Thank you.

About PEN Delhi

John Ralston Saul, president of PEN International, welcomed the new PEN Delhi Centre: “Creating a PEN Centre in Delhi recognizes the importance and the complexity  of Indian literature, of language rights and of the pressures on free expression.  The writers and publishers of this part of India have a major role to play at the international level in strengthening PEN’s role.”

The new PEN Centre in Delhi was formally recognized at the annual PEN Congress in Reykjavik, September 2013, where the writer Kiran Desai introduced the Centre and spoke about its aims. (See below.) The PEN Delhi Centre includes writers and publishers from all across Delhi and India, who work in several Indian languages including English.

We are delighted to announce PEN’s first list of members, and hope that this will grow to include many more writers, translators, editors and literary professionals. It would not have been possible to start the PEN Delhi Centre without their active support and encouragement:

Anjum Hasan, Arunava Sinha, Benyamin, Chiki Sarkar, David Davidar, Devangshu Datta, Gauri Gill, Girish Karnad, Irfan Habib, Karthika VK, Kiran Desai, Leila Seth, Mahmood Farooqui, Mamang Dai, Meenakshi Ganguly, Nayantara Sahgal, Nikhil Mehra, Nikhil Pahwa, Nilanjana Roy, Nirmala Lakshman, Mukul Kesavan, Rachna Davidar, Ravi Singh, Romila Thapar, Shovon Chowdhury, Sudeep Chakravarti, Thomas Abraham, Vikram Seth.

The need for an organisation in India that connects writers in order to both celebrate the word and protect its free expression has been strongly felt. Writers who join the global PEN International community believe that literature knows no frontiers, and that PEN stands for “the principle of unhampered transmission of thought” within each nation and between all nations.

To read the PEN Charter:


The PEN Delhi Centre intends to promote the freedom to write and the freedom to read in India and around the world. Membership for the Delhi PEN Centre will open up to writers and the general public as soon as possible: watch this space for updates.

PEN Members are writers, translators, editors or literary professionals. As PEN International says, “Members are people who spend their daily lives working with literature in an endless variety of ways, such as writing novels; translating poetry; publishing or promoting new or established writers; making speeches; reporting on local or world events; lobbying governments; encouraging writers and readers of every age; and so much more.” 

Readers, students and well-wishers who would like to support PEN Delhi’s work and agree with the principles set out in the PEN Charter are welcome to join as Friends of PEN, once the Centre is formally established.

PEN Charter

PEN affirms that:

1. Literature knows no frontiers and must remain common currency among people in spite of political or international upheavals.

2. In all circumstances, and particularly in time of war, works of art, the patrimony of humanity at large, should be left untouched by national or political passion.

3. Members of PEN should at all times use what influence they have in favour of good understanding and mutual respect between nations; they pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class and national hatreds, and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in one world.

4. PEN stands for the principle of unhampered transmission of thought within each nation and between all nations, and members pledge themselves to oppose any form of suppression of freedom of expression in the country and community to which they belong, as well as throughout the world wherever this is possible. PEN declares for a free press and opposes arbitrary censorship in time of peace. It believes that the necessary advance of the world towards a more highly organised political and economic order renders a free criticism of governments, administrations and institutions imperative. And since freedom implies voluntary restraint, members pledge themselves to oppose such evils of a free press as mendacious publication, deliberate falsehood and distortion of facts for political and personal ends.

Source: PEN International