Thursday, September 17, 2015

Ban the Ban

‘Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance’- Laurie Halse Anderson. 

There is a growing trend in the socio-political landscape of this country to impose restrictions, supress voices and ban freedom. The present spate on bans of different kinds is slowly making India –the Republic of Bans! Growing intolerance and the tendency to mainstream the fringe is at the heart of the debate.

It is not the first time the state is telling us what to read, view or even eat. Although the Constitution of India, has given ‘We the people’, the ‘Right to Freedom and Speech’, yet since time immemorial, bans have been imposed in this country. However, this tendency has seen a growth in recent times.

In a diverse country like India, the people may or may not take these ‘Bans’ or ‘Fatwas’ seriously, but argumentative Indians and particularly the media takes sadistic pleasure in order to play up these restrictions. To an extent, the media reflects the society. It mirrors what is happening in and around us, they are right too in doing so. The difficulty comes in when the media deliberately pumps up these fringe elements which are not representative of the larger opinion in the society. The danger is to mainstream each and every such occasion and make an issue out of it which only helps vested interests.

Let us be very clear, nothing should be suppressed, banned or muzzled. If we ban something, it only shows are own shame.

As Oscar Wilde beautifully puts it, “ The books that world calls immoral are the books that shows the world its own shame”.

There are many such books in India. There are many such films in India. There are many such bans in India.

'Rama Retold'by Aubery Menen was struck down in 1955, the spoof on Ramayana was one of the first books to be banned in independent India

'An Area of Darkness' by V S Naipaaul was banned in 1965 for its negative potrayal of India and its people.

'Who Killed Gandhi' by Lourenco De Salvador was banned in 1979, the book was considered inflammatory and ill-researched.

Perhaps the most famous case of banning a book in India was the ban on 'Satanic Verses' by Salman Rushdie. The universally controversial book was 'banned' in India in 1988, for its 'blasphemous content'.

'Lajja' by Taslima Nasreen was set against the backdrop of anti-Hindu riots in Bangladesh as a reaction to the demolition of Babri Masjid banned in 1993.

'Three Hundred Ramayans' by A K Ramanujan - a famous essay was banned by Delhi university in 2011 under pressure from right-wing groups.

'Bhakta Vidur' - the movie came right after the Jallianwala Bagh massacre and Rowlatt Act and a character was moulded on Mahatma Gandhi's personality. It was banned in 1921. This was the first Indian film to face a ban.

Recently, this phenomenon has taken a new trend. Not only we are told what to what watch and read now, but what to eat, what to wear.

Rajasthan and Gujarat traditionally disallow sale of meat during the nine days of the Jain festival of Paryushan. This year Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand and Haryana ordered bans on meat sale during the festival. Chhattisgarh extended the ban by further 4 days. On September 17. In some cases the ban extended to as many as 8 days. Reports of demands on ban of meat have also come from groups in states like West Bengal.

The mindless incident of a Shiva Sena, Member of Parliament force feeding a Muslim man in Maharashtra Sadan, during Ramazan has not faded in our memories, yet.
Then, there is the lunacy of the other side.

Recently, Mumbai-based Sunni Muslim group, Raza Academy issued a fatwa against Oscar-winning musician AR Rahman and renowned Iranian filmmaker, Majid Majidi for their involvement in Muhammad: Messenger of God, a movie on Prophet Muhammed. Said to be Iran's most expensive movie, it opened nationwide in the Shiite Islamic republic last week. The movie depicts the prophet on screen, an act that is prohibited in Sunni Islam.  

The right wing fringe across religions is having a field day with active collusion of the BJP and its governments. The diktat to actor Rajnikant to not act in a film on Tipu Sultan and the Fatwa on AR Rahman to not compose music for a film on the Prophet are nothing but the fringes working in collusion to keep the divisive agenda alive and the ruling party continues to tacitly look away so as to help them.

As if attacks by fringe groups on TV channels and newspaper offices was not enough, attempts at officially muzzling the media- the fourth pillar of our democracy- has reached unprecedented levels

After having served notices to selectively targeted News Channels for reporting on the Yakub Memom execution, the I&B Ministry has served a notice to Gujarat based GSTV for saying that the Mahatma did not wear suits worth Rs 9 Lakh and moves in expensive cars, while some leaders today are

In May, the UP government banned Nestle’s Maggi after tests showed presence of MSG and lead beyond permissible limits. Gujarat, Delhi, Tamil Nadu and others followed suit. On June 5, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India ordered recall of all Maggi stock, forcing Nestle India to halt production. Bombay HC was critical of FSSAI for singling out Maggi for testing.

Alcohol, meat and fish are permanently banned in parts of Palitana in Gujarat, a Jain pilgrim centre, and in the Hindu spiritual hubs of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh and Haridwar and Rishikesh in Uttarakhand. In Meerut district of Uttar Pradesh, meat shops on the routes taken by Kanwarias during the annual pilgrimage to Haridwar are banned.

In June, Madhya Pradesh banned eggs in mid-day meals for schoolchildren.
Gujarat has been under prohibition since 1960. A ban on mahua-based liquor is in force in Jharkhand for over two decades now. Liquor sale disallowed by underground militants in Manipur and Nagaland since the early 1990s.
In Kerala, no hotels, except those classified as five star, are allowed to sell liquor. Most of the 300 hotels that used to sell liquor before the ban imposed in April this year, have turned into beer and wine parlours.

Mumbai University dropped Rohinton Mistry’s book ‘Such A Long Journey’ from its reading list at the behest of the Shiv Sena, which protested that the book was derisive of it. Mistry’s book, set in India in the 1970s, was shortlisted for the Booker.
‘Charandas Chor’ by playwright and social activist Habib Tanvir cannot be read in Madhya Pradesh since 2009.

In Gujarat, BJP leader Jaswant Singh’s book ‘Jinnah: India, Partition, Independence’ was banned in 2009 for “tarnishing the image” of Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. The state government has also proscribed ‘Great Soul’, a biography of Mahatma Gandhi, by former New York Times editor Joseph Lelyveld.

In Uttar Pradesh, you cannot own a copy of or read ‘Jati Raj’ by former provincial civil services officer Lakshmi Kant Shukla, ‘Udayiman Bhartiya Samaj me Shikshak’ by Dr Karan Singh, ‘Nehru Gandhi Parivar - Secular’ or ‘Varn Sankar’ by Hari Ram Gupta and ‘Rani’, a biography of Rani Laxmibai, by Jaishree Misra.
In Tamil Nadu, Vaasanthi’s ‘Jayalalithaa: A Portrait’ has been banned since 2012, and two have faced trouble this year, Perumal Murugan’s ‘Mathorubagan’ and Puliyur Murugesan’s ‘Balachandran Enra Peyarum Enakkundu’.

In March, a BBC documentary on Nirbhaya, the girl brutally gangraped in December 2012, made by British filmmaker Leslee Udwin was proscribed in India. Comments about the incidents and women by Mukesh Singh, one of the accused in the gangrape and murder of Nirbhaya, in an interview in the film led to outrage.

Telecom ministry ordered ISPs to block access to 857 websites hosting pornographic content in August. Scaled down order after outrage. The same month, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ was refused certification by the Central Board of Film Certification. The film was effectively banned in India because no film can be publicly exhibited without clearance.

The UP government banned Yash Chopra’s ‘Aaja Nachle’, Ashutosh Gowarikar’s ‘Jodhaa Akbar’ and Prakash Jha’s ‘Aarakshan’. In 2009, the Lucknow administration denied permission to a Pakistani theatre group to stage “Jinne Lahore Nahin Vekhya”, leading to the cancellation of theatre festival “Bharangam” hosted by Bhartendu Natya Akademi in the city.

The Punjab government has banned the public exhibit of film ‘The Mastermind Jinda-Sukha’, based on the lives of Khalistan Commando Force terrorists Harjinder Singh Jinda and Sukhdev Singh Sukha who assassinated General A S Vaidya in 1986. Two films with a religious subject, ‘Nanak Shah Fakir’ and ‘Messenger of God’, were also stopped from screening this year. Punjab banned ‘Sadda Haq’ in April 2013 on the ground that it glorified militancy. Gujarat has seen a number of bans on films, including Aamir Khan-starrer ‘Fanaa’, ‘Parzania’ and ‘Chand Bujh Gaya’. Two plays, ‘Maulana Azad’ and ‘Suno Nadi Kehti Hai’ were also banned.
In Kerala, ‘Prabhuvinte Makkal’, by ‘Sajeevan Anthikkad’, was blocked on YouTube, while Tamil Nadu banned Kamal Haasan’s ‘Vishwaroopam’ (edited version released later).

Homosexuality is a touchy subject. In March 2012, Indian-Canadian photo-artist Sunil Gupta’s exhibition in Delhi titled “Sun City and Other Stories: Paris-San FranciscoDelhi” was shut down by the Delhi Police because of its theme of homosexuality.

Within weeks of taking over as Censor Board chief, Pahlaj Nihalani introduced the infamous "cuss list" with even "Bombay" on it. The list was later withdrawn, but the test will be when Anurag Kashyap returns to Wasseypur. Television is even more sanitized, and shows like 'Californication' and 'Orange is the new Black' are just a series of bleeps and blurs.

Comedy collective All India Bakchod's first attempt at a 'roast' earlier this year had to be taken down from YouTube after falling foul of various right-wing groups and a political party. It was definitely rude and smutty, but as AIB pointed out, no one was forcing people to watch it.

One of the worst victims of censorship has been one of India’s most famous painters, M F Husain. His paintings have been defaced, his films banned in Gujarat, his property vandalized, and even an absurd bounty of Rs 51 crore announced for his silver head, forcing him into exile in Qatar.

Even after his death, the ire hasn't eased up. A Ganesha painting at the Marriott in Mumbai was removed last year after one visitor objected to a nude woman painted alongside the god. Nudes also offended the "sensibility" of a right-wing group in Delhi in 2013, though the organizers refused to buckle under the protests

Sri Ram Sene's Pramod Muthalik may have become the face of the moral police after the attack on young women at a pub in 2009, but it’s a script that plays out everywhere. Remember the Sania short skirt fatwa, Meerut's Operation Majnu and the V-day attacks? Just last month, Mumbai police rounded up couples from a hotel in Madh, and humiliated them.

India is the country of Buddha and Gandhi. Tolerance was supposed to be in our heritage and in our blood. Yet continuous diktats on ‘what to see, what to eat, what to wear, what to read, what to watch’ and so on, tarnishes the image of India as the largest democratic country in the world which can take pride in its diversity.
Epilogue: The land which gave the Kamasutra to the world, is banning porn!
Let’s stand together against ban. Lets, Ban the Ban!

(Disclaimer: Many examples have been extensively quoted from The Times of India) 

All views expressed by the author are its personal views.