Culture Trip takes a look back at eight controversial books that were banned in India for obscenity, insulting religious beliefs and jeopardising national integration.
Rangila Rasul, Pandit Chamupati M.A.
Rangila Rasul was initially published anonymously in 1923, during a period of conflict between Muslims and Arya Samaj (Hindu reformers) in Punjab. The title of this book means ‘Colourful Prophet’ and it describes the marriages and sex life of the Prophet Muhammad, which many Muslims found to be highly offensive. However, the book was defended as supposedly being a retaliatory action to a pamphlet depicting the Hindu goddess Sita as a prostitute. The publisher, Mahashay Rajpal, initially refused to reveal the name of the author and for that, he was imprisoned and later assassinated. The book is still banned in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
The Myth of the Holy Cow, Dwijendra Narayan Jha
Cultural historian Dwijendra Narayan Jha quite literally took the bull by the horns when he published The Myth of the Holy Cow in 2001. India’s Hindu majority believes the cow to be sacred and abstains from eating beef. Because of this, the slaughter of cows is illegal in many states in India. But Jha unearthed irrefutable textual evidence in Vedic scriptures and medical texts that showed Hindus believed eating beef and slaughtering cows wasn’t taboo until the 19th century. When he published his findings, the book was promptly banned by the Hyderabad Civil Court and the author received several death threats.
The Land of the Lingam, Arthur Miles
In 1937, Arthur Miles published a book to help Westerners understand Hinduism. He evoked it as a series of impenetrable superstitions and stated that the worship of the lingam (phallus) was an important aspect of Hinduism, suggesting that ‘sex is the keynote of the Indian’s life’. He also wrote that India’s caste system – a hierarchical class structure determined upon birth – was brought into being solely so Hindu priests could dominate society. The book offended many people in India and was subsequently banned for its obscene content.
The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie’s 1988 novel, based on the life of the Prophet Muhammad, attracted worldwide controversy. Islam believes there is only one God, but Rushdie’s novel is a fictional retelling of several verses that initially appeared in the Qur’an (before being removed), in which the Prophet Muhammad mentions three pagan Goddesses, whom he describes as God’s intermediaries. Rushdie’s novel goes on to describe Islam as a religion with too many rules and paints unflattering portraits of important figures in the Qur’an. Many Muslims considered it highly blasphemous and the Indian Finance Ministry banned its importation into India only nine days after its publication. By early 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, then Supreme Leader of Iran, issued a fatwa calling for Rushdie’s death, forcing him into hiding for several years. The ban is still in place and Rushdie was pressured into cancelling an appearance at the Jaipur Literature Festival in 2012.
Dwikhandita, Taslima Nasreen
Taslima Nasreen is a controversial Bangladeshi feminist known for speaking out against the oppression of women in Muslim culture. Consequently, a fatwa was issued against her in 1994. A decade later, she released Dwikhandita, an autobiography in which a short section of the book recalls Bangladesh in the 1980s when the military threw out secularism in the country. This upset many members of the Muslim community, causing protests that had to be broken up by the army. As a result, Dwikhandita was banned in West Bengal and Nasreen had to be placed in safe custody and was forced to leave India in 2008.
The Hindus: An Alternative History, Wendy Doniger
In 2009, Sanskrit scholar Wendy Doniger published an alternative history of Hinduism, drawing upon perspectives of women, animals, outcasts and Dalits to contradict the sanitised, patriarchal views of Hinduism. The Dalits, who make up almost 17% of India’s population, are part of the lowest caste and have long suffered the stigma of ‘untouchability’ due to their menial professions. On the other hand, outcastes were historically those who belonged to no caste, perhaps as a result of inter-caste marriage. Hearing about these marginalised voices outraged some of India’s Hindu population and the book was consequently banned for ‘deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the feelings of any religious community’. It has since returned to the market.
The Face of Mother India, Katherine Mayo
In 1926, an American researcher published a book based on her travels in India, railing against harmful traditions sanctioned by Hinduism, such as child marriage and the treatment of women and Dalits. In describing these traditions, the book was used as evidence to support the fact that India would be better off under the ‘civilised’ British colonial rule. In India, the book was burned in protest and Gandhi referred to it as ‘the report of a drain inspector sent out with the one purpose of opening and examining the drains of the country to be reported upon’. It is still illegal to import the novel into India.
Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India, Joseph Lelyveld
In 2011, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Joseph Lelyveld published a biography of Gandhi. In the book, he suggests that Gandhi had an intimate relationship with a German-Jewish architect, Hermann Kallenbach, whom he lived with in Johannesburg for two years. Many believe Lelyveld was insinuating this was a homosexual relationship and the book was promptly banned by the government in Gujarat. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said the writing was ‘perverse in nature and hurt the sentiments of those with capacity for sane and logical thinking’ and demanded a public apology from the author.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.