From The Times of India, Apr 10, 2012:


The pattern's become depressingly familiar - a writer presents new views on a historical figure. A group with some affiliation to this figure, ethnic, devotional or political, takes offence. Protests lead to personalised attacks laced with shrill intolerance, court cases mushrooming against the writer and heavy-handed state action, like disallowing him to enter a location - or pushing him to leave. This pattern's reloading again in the furore over American historian Peter Heehs's book exploring Sri Aurobindo's life. Followers of Sri Aurobindo are apparently upset over Heehs's alleged probing of the leader's mental history or his relationship with his disciple, the Mother. But their discontent hasn't stopped there. Heehs, himself a resident of Puducherry's Auroville Ashram for 40 years, finds himself facing court cases - and a current refusal to renew his Indian visa. 

In recent years, Indian intolerance to differing perspectives on remarkable figures strewn generously across our history has been growing. The reaction to American writer Joseph Lelyveld's 2011 book on Gandhi - angry protests, calls for a ban - is fresh in memory. Writers of fiction haven't escaped either. Taslima Nasreen's autobiography was banned in West Bengal by the Left - two years elapsing till this was revoked - while Salman Rushdie was unable to attend a literature festival in 2012 due to a novel from 1988. With one group arbitrarily arrogating to itself decisions on the 'limits' of artistic or scholarly freedom, the state often aligned, India is showing itself to be an increasingly insecure nation, unable to debate or discuss maturely. For the argumentative Indian, this choking-off of provocative discourse is a huge loss - and a disservice to those whose names we claim to thus protect.