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PUCL Bulletin, Augut 2006

Intolerance leads to censorship

-- By K G Kannabiran, 1 June.2006

This is a season for Constitutional transgressions. Narendra Modi in Gujarat as a Chief Minister functioning under the Constitution has defied the federal principle and behaved like a political agitator promoting Gujarathi Chauvinism. In his eagerness to gain some political mileage he is jettisoning the federal principle implied in the Constitution. But this is his intolerance of another point of view on Narmada Dam. That intolerance led to attack on the film actor who took up the cause of over a lakh of people displaced by the Narmada Sarovar Project, who have not been rehabilitated even according to the Committee recently appointed by the Centre. His film was banned from being screened in Gujarat.

The hoardings advertising the film were torn down by his private army. In this non-violent democracy private armies maintained by these political parties are allowed to enforce the ban more thoroughly than the regularly paid law enforcing forces.

Shatrughna Sinha the Cultural Commissar of the BJP has denied the right to Aamir Khan to support the cause championed by the NBA.

Film actors have no right to voice their political views, he says. It is reported that Bollywood is divided. That is how all rights meet their Waterloo. Rights are indivisible and a sectarian approach in the grant or denial of a right threatens openness, vitality of political discourse and does affect cultural creativity. We are now educated on what politics is all about, It is a specialized field occupied by full time practitioners of the craft and not people like you or me who are not licensed to play politics. Aamir Khan is told that he can join some of these registered establishments playing politics and talk about Narmada or any other subject. It is a trend setter statement. People who are the voters can consult the specialist but not tell him what should be done or what needs to be done. At one stroke he violates the free speech of the voter (for voting is free speech) and his colleague in the film world.

Of the same genre is the conduct of Chief Mister Kalagnar Karunanidhi. Our Chief Minister YSR merely carries on the Congress Party’s great tradition of banning all art forms particularly poetry and banning writers associations. Karunanidhi was born out of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu. He is a proud descendant of Periyar and Annadurai. In the early stages of the Dravidian movement several of their plays intended to spread rationalism by attacking the oppressive obscurantist practices imposed by Brahmanism on the society were banned. Karunanidhi lived through this period of governmental excesses and is today living in a State where a Godman Premananda was successfully prosecuted and where a Mathaadhipathi suspected of crime is being prosecuted.

All this would not have been possible but for the Dravidian movement’s traditions firmly taking hold of defining the attitude of the Tamils. Having emerged out of such a movement he should not have imposed a ban on screening the film the Da Vinci Code in his state. The Novel sold a few million copies and there has been wide ranging debate at an international level. In the History Channel of the Television Dan Brown, the author and others spoke about the historical fidelity of the material used to write this novel. There is neither obscenity nor vulgarity in the novel. It does not shake the Christian faith nor does it question the apostolic messages on Christianity. It is just one version of the history of Christianity. It is not an interpretation of the faith but its history as now held. That surely does not call for the guillotine. The Censor Boards have passed this film and accorded “A” Certificate. After such scrutiny where is the right in the Government to review the Censor Boards proceedings. A vague complaint of offending the religious sentiments can never be a ground for banning a film.

Andhra Pradesh has a long tradition of dealing roughly with writers and their writings. This was Jagam Vengalrao’s legacy, which was followed very scrupulously by Chenna Reddy and by YSR. The ban on writers’ organization did not stand the Scrutiny by the Advisory Board constituted by the Public Security Act. A decision to ban should not be a reflex action. A decision to ban should be deliberated upon before issuing the order. Governance does not mean driving the people to the court on every issue. This is one way of passing the buck on to the judiciary and later blame the courts for their laxity. Nor is it proper to give into political lobbying of the less farsighted leadership of the minorities. Christianity is not as fragile as to be shaken up by a Dan Brown novel or a visual presentation of the novel. By pleading for the ban the minority leadership does disservice to the Christian faith. The Chief Ministers who are not sure of their short tenures and re election have the temerity to presume that their protective power will preserve the faith, which has been ruling the world for two thousand years.

Thousands in this country have read that novel and clinging to the ban imposed appears inane. I do not think the West has banned either the novel or its visual representation nor the Vatican raised any serious objection to the novel which has sold a few million copies.

People's Union for Civil Liberties, 81 Sahayoga Apartmrnts, Mayur Vihar I, Delhi 110091, India. Phone (91) 11 2275 0014