Amardeep Singh has an interesting article that’s curiously titled the communalisation of censorship. I believe he also runs a blog, which I tune into on and off. The article begins quite engagingly, recounting recent and past incidents of censorship in India, what was done about it and so on, but runs into few problems starting some place around this paragraph.
With a secular United Progressive Alliance government led by the Congress party currently in power, the central government strictures may have been loosened…
Considering that this writer lent support to the outrage that the recent blog-banning generated, it is surprising how he finds that the UPA has loosened the strictures because it was this selfsame UPA which initiated the ban. So where are the loosened strictures? It may only be me but why does this paragraph beg to be compared with the previous, which says
Between 2000 and 2004, the National Democratic Alliance government, led by the Bharatiya Janata Party, did its best to ban any film critical of its policies. The attitude is exemplified by the prohibition slapped on two political documentaries, Anand Patwardhanâ€™s film War and Peace, which focused on the nuclear tests of 1998, and Rakesh Sharmaâ€™s The Final Solution, which took on the Gujarat government of Narendra Modi over the 2002 riots.
So, films critical of the establishment were banned when the NDA was ruling, but the “secular” UPA government guarantees total freedom, no banning, etc. So, is this the conclusion the author wants us to derive, or am I simply reading too much between the lines? As for Anand Patwardhan, here’s an interesting item:
In a letter to Director of Public Affairs of the museum, Elaine Charnov, Parishad, Gaurag G Vaishnav says the documentaries – We are not monkeys and In the name of God, produced by Anand Patwardhan – would “not only mislead the viewer because of gross distortions of facts but also help advance politically motivated Marxist agenda.”
Patwardhan, an egregious Marxists, attempts to demonstrate that Rama, the main character in the epic Ramayana, was an Aryan who enslaved Dravidian people and called them his monkeys. “Nothing is farther from truth. Not only this presentation tends to continue to advance the recently debunked colonialist theory of Aryans’ invasion of India but it also tends to create artificial division among the people of India along imposed on racial lines,” the letter released by the Parishad said.
And don’t we all know that the Marxists are the most vocal to demand justice for the victims of Gujarat riots but are struck by a bolt of silence when you speak about justice for the kar sevaks who were roasted in the train coach? Because he mentions it, Amardeep might be interested to look at this perspective regarding the Final Solution
After watching the documentary, one can easily make out that it is a crude attempt to exemplify and exaggerate the reality to gain political mileage. There are a number of instances where the director attempts (but fails) to intentionally misinterpret Hindi/Gujarati speaking subjects. Out of context statements make up his case in a notorious manner.
Then there are completely unverified, false and politically charged statements used by communists against the BJP that make up large part of the documentary. For instance, the documentary claims that:
“Narendra Modi introduced 7/8th grade history textbook that glorifies Hitler.”
It, however, turns out that the books was actually prescribed under a Congress government in 1993 and can hardly, in any case, be pinned upon the incumbent chief minister…
(Quotation marks mine)
As well as this by Great Bong written in characteristic style.
Whatâ€™s with us as Indians? I mean just looking at this paragraph above makes me squirm . It also makes me understand why we have been invaded ad nauseum by Islamic despots and imperialist powers for centuries. Thatâ€™s because we as a country, through the ages, have kept on producing enough traitors to keep our enemies smug and happy. Traitors ? Am I over reacting? After all hereâ€™s a Channel V ex-producer who after being associated with such a serious news channel has decided, out of the force of his own conscience, to expose the vicious Nazi-scale â€œFinal Solutionâ€ type state-sponsored pogrom perpetrated on Muslims (sorry Moslems) by the apathetic Indian national government. (My lesson of the day: it was the â€œnationalâ€ government which was responsible for the genocideâ€”last time I heard the shrill barkings of Shabnam Hashmi and her ilk, it was the Gujarat government that was culpable.)
I must be a crazy right wing loon. But hold on, I donâ€™t believe in organized religion. I also believe that Narendra Modi, the chief minister of Gujarat, is a dangerous man who deserves to be behind bars for criminal negligence and for inciting riots. But I also believe that Hitler he is notâ€”either Rakesh Sharma and his friends have no idea of Mr Modi or they have no idea of Hitler or what the Final Solution was.
It might be the later. The â€œFinal Solutionâ€ was conceived at the Wannsee conference by office holders in the German administration to come up with a long-term plan to murder and dislocate Jews. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that even one murder in Gujrat was conceived at the state or national level, no evidence that it was ever a part of government policy. Because it was not.
The reason I stress this is because it is precisely here that the treachery of Mr Sharma lies. Mr Sharma knows the truth. Yet he, very mischievously, associates a term (Final Solution) which has a far darker connotation for Westerners (it implies violence as a part of government policy) with what happened in Gujrat in order to get brownie points from those who matter.
And who are they? The Western audience ! The people who donâ€™t know better, who have deeply entrenched stereotypes of Hindus and India. Mr Sharmaâ€™s meal ticket comes in pandering to that stereotypeâ€”â€”â€”â€“of India being a land torn asunder by Hindu-government-orchestrated religious and caste violence (he has made another documentary on caste violence !). Being a self-flagellator and a dissident is a sure-fire way to get noticed in the place that mattersâ€”-the US of A. Thatâ€™s where the dollars come from, not to speak of the soundbytes and the awards that matter.Me bad. I am ascribing motives to a noble individual. But am I ? If Mr Sharma really wants to stop the hate and the violence, should he not be in Gujrat showing his movie and shaming people into reform? Should he not be touring Indiaâ€™s educational institutes informing students of the truth behind the genocide. In all my years at Jadavpur University, I never once saw these documentary film makers despite the glowing leftist traditions of my alma mater. I however have seen them at Stonybrook, in NYC, in the valleyâ€¦â€¦..the last places on earth where there is a need to educate people on the dangers of communal violence. Unless of course your motive is not to educate but to sensationalize.Sensationalize. Yes, thatâ€™s the word. The publicity literature above says â€ state-sponsoredâ€. Libelous. There has never been any proof whatsoever that the state sponsored or paid for any of the violence.
To pick up the thread of a strictures-loosened UPA government, Amardeep says that the
…state and non-state actors have already gotten the taste of censorship and bannings.
Really? Unless he’s not tuned into news, Andhra Pradesh was one of the first states to ban the Code, and this, before the courts ruled against the banning. Whatever the claims justifying the ban, AP’s Chief Minister is a proselytizing Christian who went public with a statement that he’d challenge the court’s order. The non-state actors’ part is to a large extent, minimal. More on this later.
Amardeep Singh follows this with another round of (predictable) attack against Gujarat:
And in what may be the most absurd case of censorship of all, the state of Gujarat attempted to ban the inoffensive film Fanaa â€“ not because of any objectionable content, but rather because actor Aamir Khan had the temerity to criticise Chief Minister Modiâ€™s governmentâ€™s handling of the relocation of villagers displaced by the Sardar Sarovar Dam.
I’m not arguing that banning Fanaa was right. The fact that Amardeep chose Fanaa to illustrate the subject of his article–banning on religious and cultural grounds–suggests something deeper. Here’s the thing: Aamir Khan absolutely had no business meddling in issues he has zero knowledge about. While we’re at it, here’s the report card on Medha Patkar’s struggle . But he did that in the hope of scoring brownie points for taking on the Mighty Modi (=unstinted media support) and/or promoting himself as a “caring/socially-conscious celebrity.” When was the last time we heard Aamir Khan support Narmada? Why now? These questions are irrelevant to a great extent in this post. Which is exactly my point: Amardeep has done the same thing–he’s used something irrelevant as the Fanaa issue in an article on “communalizing censorship” as he calls it. If he had to really choose a relevant film, he could’ve chosen Sins, another movie banned for showing some err… happenings in the life of a Catholic priest. But then, no secularist worth his/her mettle will miss a chance to damn Modi, whatever be the grounds.
And now, Amardeep comes to the rescue of Mian Hussain:
Take Bombay artist M F Husainâ€™s work Bharat Mata, which was the target of a nationwide campaign and court case this past spring. The central figureâ€™s nudity is respectful and beautiful, rather than exploitative, but has nevertheless been adjudged offensive by the cultural guardians of Indiaâ€™s self-image.
This is truly amazing. On what basis did Amardeep conclude that Hussain’s nude depiction of Bharat Mata is “respectful and beautiful” on behalf of everybody? When does art experience become universal, at what point does the same work of art appeal to everybody in the same manner–as suggested by his use of “respectful and beautiful”–are just two questions which Amardeep doesn’t throw light on. One recalls the late 19th century and early 20th century Western art critics who termed Indian sculpture in such colourful words as “hideous,” “demonic,” “black,” “dark,” “unbalanced,” “unstructured,” “unrhythmic,” and so on. Contemporary and subsequent generations of art critics–both Indian and Western–internalized this and… well, I digress. What Amardeep Singh has done here is not different from what he calls the “self-appointed cultural guardians” have done: deciding for others. We similarly don’t need Amardeep to tell us if Hussain’s depiction of Bharat Mata is aesthetic or otherwise.
Millions of Indians hold Bharat Mata equivalent to their own (biological) Mother. How many liberal/progressive folks find a nude picture of his/her mother “respectful and beautiful?” However, these liberals will argue that Bharat Mata is not a living person, she’s not real, so it’s okay to depict her nude. Agree. By that token, is it okay to caricature say, the lady in the Statue of Liberty or any other symbol that holds cultural/sentimental/emotional/national significance, and pass it off as an expression of art and defend the “artist” who does this?
Amardeep Singh next makes a very convincing argument, which sounds balanced but in reality, is misleading.
While India as a whole seems to be marching towards liberalisation on both the political and cultural fronts, the future of censorship remains uncertain, partly because of a possible contradiction in the Indian Constitution itself. The very first section of Article 19 guarantees freedom of expression, but the second clause subsequently indicates that the government retains authority â€œto legislate concerning libel, slander, defamation, contempt of court, any matter offending decency and morality, or which undermines the security of or tends to overthrow, the State.â€ It is this text that is repeatedly cited by the state when it agrees to demands by religious groups to ban works of art: the security of the state. But security for whom, and from what? The irony is that the threat to security from censorious religious groups is the threat they themselves pose. It is hard to understand why the religious groups responsible for fomenting riots against offensive works are not being prosecuted, and in their places are writers, artists and filmmakers.
This is a variation of an oft-used technique at least in my readings of Marxist/Leftist writings: lumping everybody into a faceless creature named “religious groups” to prevent examining the specifics. It then becomes easy to equate riots/disturbance/censorship caused by Islamist goons to genuine acts of protest by Hindu groups. So, each act of Hindu protest–violent or no–will automatically be seen with the same lenses as one is used to see acts of violence by Islamic groups. Case in point: M.F. Hussain. For as long as anybody can remember, this artist par excellence has displayed his brilliance in painting Hindu Gods and cultural symbols in the most hideous manner. We’ve not seen a single painting that show the Prophet in a similar manner–forget that, he hasn’t painted a single picture of the Prophet’s face; I’m sure he knows better; the kind of “support” he’ll get from the media, intellectuals, and an array of eminences who currently defend him if he does that. Or perhaps his talent simply fails him when it comes to painting the Prophet. A fatwa will promptly be executed, and the secular gang will take on a sudden, deafening silence. Writers, et al should not write/paint with a preconceived agenda if they need to be taken seriously. It is an open secret that denigrating Hinduism earns zillions today and that Hindus generally take it in all docility. In contrast, a documentary that exposed a very real problem of Islam cost a filmmaker his life.
I don’t need to spell out what this mindset is called. Amardeep Singh himself betrays this mindset in varying degrees when he says
Certainly the question should be asked: What about images that are specifically created to offend, such as the Danish cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed?
So there we have Amardeep again defining for us what we need to decide as offensive where Islam is concerned. Here’re the cartoons “specifically created to offend.” See for yourself and decide. So why isn’t a nude Saraswathi or Bharat Mata offensive? Because it was painted by a renowned artist? Or because cartooning is an inferior art to painting? Or because the religious sentiments of Muslims are infinitely more sensitive than that of Hindus? I suppose Amardeep knows that hundreds of books that condemn, caricature and vulgarize Christianity exist today, and that the West pokes fun at the religion routinely? Are all those books/pictures/works of art offensive? If yes, why haven’t embassies been bombed, buildings torched, people killed, and so on, as happened after the Danish cartoon issue? Amardeep further “balances” the article by damning the BJP again:
One could argue that a number of communally-inflected films were indeed released in the 1990s and early 2000s â€“ the worst offender probably being the Partition super-hit Gadar in 2001, which featured a heavily slanted representation of Islam and Pakistan. And yet, these saffronised films were rubber-stamped by the BJP-friendly censor board of that period.
There’s nothing “heavily slanted” in Gadar except perhaps Sunny Deol’s constant roar. Just to refresh historical (and current) facts:
The Partition was real
The Partition was the result of Islamic separatist demands; Jinnah did demand, and got a separate Islamic/Muslim state. Pakistan itself means land of the pure.
For the record, there’s absolutely no scene or dialogue in Gadar where Islam, as Amardeep says, is represented with a slant. In fact, Amisha Patel, the heroine, plays a Muslim whom Sunny, a Sikh marries. Or wait, perhaps the film didn’t have the slant that Amardeep was looking for, which generally means no criticism of Islam, and now, Amardeep has added “no criticism of Pakistan” to the list.
And Amardeep writes something that generally qualifies to be called intellectually dishonest not in the least because it’s factually dishonest as well.
Though the current shift towards the â€˜communalisationâ€™ of censorship is not driven by the government, the government will have to take a leadership role in correcting the trend.
How does one start? If we agree that it’s not driven by the government, we’d be forced to conclude that a few religious groups wield the power to force the government to ban films, books, etc. However, Amardeep himself calls the present government freedom-loving (recall, “loosening the strictures?”), and other nice things. What then explains that not one, but at least seven (or five?) governments banned Da Vinci Code, and the Minister of Broadcasting tried to prevent its release throughout India? What’s more, this Minister wanted the “religious groups” to “approve” its release. Is this sufficient to disprove your claim that it is not driven by the government? Whichever way you look, all evidence points to the contrary, and I can only say Amardeep harbours illusions by saying “the government will have to take a leadership role in correcting the trend.” And further,
The maintenance of a censorship system in an otherwise free society is based on a paternalistic and oversimplified concept of what literary and artistic representations actually do. The paternalism is a holdover from colonialism, and is gradually declining as the authority of Indiaâ€™s old elites gives way to the new, technocratic, free-market order. But the misconception of the nature and function of the work of art remains widespread. It is mistaken to believe that watching or reading violent films and books will induce masses of people to commit acts of violence.
What do artistic and allied representations actually do? If you criticise it, you need to define it. I’m not arguing for censorship–it should go–but I’m questioning the basis of Amardeep’s criticism that it is “paternalistic.” How is it paternalistic? And how is it related to colonialism?
Agreed, but Amardeep still doesn’t give us the true conception of the nature and function of art. On the contrary, there’s a mountain of scientific evidence to prove that watching violent movies causes violent behaviour. Forget movies, I’m sure Amardeep knows how Hitler had mastered the art of influencing masses with his famous public hall meetings, and how most Communist (and other) dictators knew that control of media–radio, TV–meant controlling the minds of people. And who were those folks who coined, a pen is mightier than the sword? I’m sure they weren’t comparing weights. Also that bit about a few drops of ink makes people think or some such thing. The latter was surely said by a person whose works of art find a place of pride in world literature.
In a mature democracy, questions about how to discuss religion ought to be worked out through public debate.
Agreed. But in India, only Hinduism is subject to public debate and….
I’ll stop here as I already have a reputation as a nasty right-winger. But I think I’ve tried my best to be polite.
Postscript: I read the article at least thrice. Curiously, I find that Amardeep has not defined the word “communal.”