Thursday, July 20, 2006

More Censorship

Sometimes blogging lands you up in funny places. Abhi and Patrix from Desipundit were recently quoted in an excellent San Francisco Chronicle regarding the new Indian comic books. A mystery man named "Ennis Singh Mutinywale" was quoted all over the place after dropping this bombshell. Manish Vij had, as mentioned earlier, a quality piece in Salon after the Mumbai blasts. And a number of bloggers (naturally) were quoted in mainstream media coverage of the Indian blog ban -- not surprising since several prominent desi bloggers are also professional (or at least freelance) journalists.

Today it was my turn, albeit in a smaller way: the Times of London called for a comment on Sonia Gandhi's attempt to suppress Jag Mundhra's planned biopic about her (starring Monica "Mary Magdalene" Belluci as the young Sonia Gandhi). I blogged about it two months ago, and somehow that turned into this:

Despite priding itself on a constitution that guarantees freedom of expression, India has a history of censorship. It was the first country to ban Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses and the Central Board of Film Certification regularly uses the fear of civil unrest between its Hindu and Muslim communities to demand cuts from directors or to keep certain films out of cinemas. Only yesterday, a ban was lifted on 17 websites that ministers claimed were fanning religious hatred after the bomb blasts in Bombay on July 11.

Amardeep Singh, assistant professor of English at Lehigh University, in Pennsylvania, was not surprised by Mrs Gandhi’s attempts to stop the film. "There is a knee-jerk censoriousness in Indian politics and it is a sad reaction to try to suppress the film before it has even been produced," he said. "It is meant to be a respectful biopic, but I think they’re just nervous because the director has a reputation for the unsavoury." (link)

Admittedly, that last statement was pure speculation on my part (one always wishes the reporter quoted the other thing you said!). But this censorship problem is, as Dilip D'Souza has ably argued, a systemic problem we need to be continually vigilant about. India would be a better place if the default were to allow people to have their say rather than block, ban, and censor. (And it's not just a Congress Party thing; the BJP were no slouches when it came to censoring views they weren't happy about.)

Sadly, the filmmakers here have apparently decided to shelve the film rather than insist on their right to make it.

[Cross-posted at Sepia Mutiny]


St Antonym said...

"knee-jerk censoriousness"

Very well-said, Prof.

12:09 AM  
vk said...

Very well said, and I am glad you got the opportunity to make this point. The censoriousness seriously stunts the political and social discourse in India. Issues of tremendous importance to
Indian society (religion, caste etc) are rarely discussed with complete freedom, and are severely limited by this sort of censorship.

3:14 AM  
gaddeswarup said...

Somewhat related topic. The Indian Govt. is trying to amend RTI Act and Sonia Gandhi seems to be unhappy about it:

7:23 AM  

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