Eleven controversial books you should read

From offending society to hurting religious sentiments, several books, by acclaimed authors were banned in India after their release. While freedom of speech is hotly debated in India, authors have courted controversy simply because they had a voice.

And because that voice could reach the masses.

1. An Area of Darkness by V. S. Naipaul

The novel chronicles the Nobel laureate’s first encounter with India. A travelogue, the book takes the readers on a journey across India as Naipaul himself encounters various cross-sections of society. It was the first book in the trilogy which includes India: A Wounded Civilization and India: A Million Mutinies Now. The book was immediately banned in India for its “negative portrayal of India and its people”.

2. The Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

This list would be incomplete without Rushdie’s most controversial book. The Satanic Verses is, in part, inspired by the life of the Prophet Muhammad. Rushdie uses magical realism and contemporary incidents to create his characters. The book was banned in India for hate speech directed towards a religious group. Muslims accused Rushdie of blasphemy, issued a fatwa calling for his death, and carried out assassination attempts on the author as well.


3. Rangila Rasul by Pandit Chamupati M.A.

Rangila Rasul which stands for ‘Promiscuous Prophet’ is banned not only in India but also in Pakistan and Bangladesh. The book was published during the period of confrontation between the Arya Samaj and Muslims in Punjab during the 1920s. The book’s controversial subject detailed the marriages and sex life of the Prophet Muhammad.


4. The Polyester Prince: The Rise of Dhirubhai Ambani by Hamish McDonald

This tell-all biography of Dhirubhai Ambani was met with several threats even before the manuscript was completed by Ambani’s lawyer. The author, unfazed, had his book published in Australia. The book, however, didn’t see the light of day after Reliance Industries got a temporary injunction against the book. HarperCollins, the publisher, then decided to not publish the book.


5. Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India by James Laine

Laine’s novel was met with so much criticism following its publication that it led to a situation of public unrest in Maharashtra. The novel was subsequently banned in the state, for many thought it carried a negative portrayal of Shivaji and his parents. Maharashtra called Shivaji a work that “contained material promoting social enmity.” Even after the Bombay High Court and the Supreme Court overruled and appealed the ban, respectively, Oxford University Press withdrew it from the market.





6. The Myth of the Holy Cow by Dwijendra Narayan Jha

In the book, Jha writes that the practice of eating beef can be traced back to ancient India as documented in Vedic and Post-Vedic texts. In a nation that literally worships the cow as a goddess, the book was hugely criticised as it deeply hurt Indian sentiments. The Myth of the Holy Cow was banned by the Hyderabad Civil Court and Jha even received death threats.


7. Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India by Joseph Lelyveld

Pulitzer Prize winner Joseph Lelyvel claims that the “Father of the Nation” had a sexual relationship with Hermann Kallenbach, a German-Jewish bodybuilder. Lelyveld also quoted cultural historian Tridip Suhrud in the book, who said that Gandhi and Kallenbach “were a couple”. The Legislative Assembly of Gujarat, Gandhi’s home state, voted unanimously in 2011 to ban the book following the huge uproar it created.


8. Understanding Islam through Hadis – Religious Faith or Fanaticism? by Ram Swarup

The book is a study of the Sahih Muslim, the second-most important collection of Hadiths. The book deeply offended the Muslim community. A reprint of the book by Swarup’s friend, Sita Ram Goel, sold out quickly. However, the Hindi translation of his book was banned after Swarup had it commissioned. Goel was arrested and the Hindi and English translations were banned.


9. The Ramayana as Told by Aubrey Menen

Aubrey Menen was an English writer of Irish and Indian descent. He was primarily a satirist. The retelling of the Hindu epic was meant to be a fun and readable version but Menen’s book hurt so many sentiments that it eventually led to its ban.


10. The Heart of India by Alexander Campbell

Alexander Campbell was Time magazine’s correspondent in New Delhi in the 1950s and his book, The Heart of India was a fictionalised version of the Indian bureaucracy and its economic policies. The book was published in 1958 but was banned by the Indian government in 1959 on grounds of being “repulsive”.


11. Nine Hours to Rama by Stanley Wolpert

Nine Hours to Rama has its narrative set in the nine hours in the life of Nathuram Godse where he planned to assassinate Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi. The book was banned in 1962 because it suggested a failure in the security system that led to Gandhi’s killing.


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