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Another onslaught on free expression
Banning 3 films in Kerala festival is arbitrary and smacks of intolerant attitude of those in power
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The singling out of three documentaries from a list of over 200 films, 170 of them uncertified by the Central Board for Film Certificate (CBFC), have been denied permission for screening by the Information and Broadcasting (I&B) Ministry at the forth-coming international documentary short film festival in Kerala, militants against the freedom of expression guaranteed under Article 19 (A) of the Indian constitution and is an attempt to subvert democracy and kill creativity. A glance at the three films in question would reveal the intolerance of the government of the day to dissent and anything that is critical of the government policies and its fascist actions. The three films include 'The Unbearable Being of Lightness', on Dalit research scholar Rohith Vemula's suicide, 'March March March' which chronicles student protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), and 'In The Shade of Fallen Chinar' which tells the story of resistance of Kashmiri students through artistic and creative pursuits. It doesn't take rocket science to figure out the BJP government's paranoia of Rohith Vemula, JNU and Kashmir as the prime reason for banning such films. The officials have dismissed the charges of intolerance and vendetta and maintained that the films do not follow the I&B guidelines but refused to specify or elaborate on what the guidelines were and how these were flouted in anyway by the film-makers in question. The latter have rebuffed the official claims and intellectuals and film-makers questioning such arbitrary and excessive censorship methods of controlling creative spaces, dissemination of information and free exchange of ideas as the worst kind of cultural emergency. They are not off the mark. The scale of censorships in the recent past on not just documentary films but also Bollywood cinema, publishing houses and print and electronic media shows a trend that should be worrying for any democratic country. Needless to point out the futility of such curbs in an era of cyber skies where all the banned films, books and other content continue to be circulated and watched or read.

Censorship has been an issue to reckon with also in the past with successive governments cracking down on any form of media that challenges the policies of the government of the day or offers narratives breaking the stereo-types related to social hierarchies and gender. However, this government operates in the different way by tightening its noose around any form of media and taking arbitrary decisions which are not decided by an expert jury but are whimsically and vindictively taken at the political and bureaucratic levels. Film certifications are not easy to get without the CBFC demanding several cuts in the films. The matter does not end here because the state now is ready to clamp down on free speech merely at the behest of fringe elements and goons. Noted film-maker and actor, Amol Palekar, who recently challenged India's censorship laws in the Supreme Court, arguing that decisions on making cuts and denying certification are largely arbitrary in nature, also questioned the role of the judiciary, referencing the Allahabad high court's demand that four scenes be cut from Jolly LLB 2 for 'defaming the judiciary' in promoting the culture of excessive censorship, rather than acting as a savior of citizen's fundamental rights.

The brazen forms of censorship, aimed at suppression and purging any kind of idea that is seen by the those in power as a threat to their existence or the closeted ideologies that they espouse. Such a predatory nature of the state on artistic freedom and freedom of expression is unacceptable because of the many dangers to the country's liberal and democratic values it poses. There is need to challenge such trends unitedly not only for the sake of freedom of media and for surviving of free cultural spirit but also for the sake of democracy. Let us not forget that Indian democracy has survived this long only because of the nation's inherent ability to absorb many different ideas, thoughts, philosophies and culture and meaningfully engage with these; and ultimately leading to assimilation of such ideas in the Indian fabric. This process must be strengthened at any cost, not reversed, or even altered.

News Updated at : Tuesday, June 13, 2017
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