Why Artistic Freedom Has Never Been Safe Under Any Government In India

Posted by Aniket Verma in Culture-Vulture
January 22, 2018

The title has been changed to “Padmaavat”, the censor board has given a green signal and the Supreme Court has refused to entertain pleas on banning the movie. But the hooliganism of fringe groups continue unabated. The Karni Sena has announced that it will protest against Prasoon Joshi, the CBFC chief for certifying the controversial Sanjay Leela Bhansali movie, when he arrives for Jaipur Literature Festival 2018.

“Padmaavat” (earlier “Padmavati”) has been making all the headlines right from the days of its shooting in Rajasthan when the crew, including the director Sanjay Leela Bhansali were manhandled by the Karni Sena members.The group, a self proclaimed representative of the Rajputs, has been opposing the movie tooth and nail. Apparently, they have apprehensions regarding historical accuracy in the movie and have alleged that the characterization of the central character, Rani Padmavati has been degraded.

Now, any group has the right to their belief and ideologies. The problem arises when they start sending out violent threats to legit tax-paying citizens of the country. In fact, many BJP led state governments decided to ban the movie when it was not even watched by the CBFC. While it can be a new low for artistic freedom in India, it is definitely not the first time.

The Rajiv Gandhi government in 1988 banned “Satanic Verses”, a novel by noted author Salman Rushdie, fearing backlash from Muslim organizations. On the ban Rushdie said, “This is no way, Mr Gandhi, for a free society to behave. What sort of India do you wish to govern? Is it to be an open or a repressive society? Your action in the matter of The Satanic Verses will be an important indicator for many people around the world.”

West Bengal, the center of art and culture in India, has also not been isolated from this. The government banned “Dwikhandito”, a book by exiled Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasreen, in what seemed to be a decision in the interest of ‘communal amity.

Another interesting figure is that of Mamata Bannerjee,current CM of West Bengal,who recently said that “Padmavati” is welcome in Bengal. It seems ironical because she didn’t allow another one of Taslima’s books,”Nirbasan” to be published when she came to power in Bengal. One of the TV serials scripted by Taslima Nasreen was not allowed to be broadcast. Taslima stated in 2017, “I found her harsher than the earlier Left Front government.”

Even Southern India got a taste of such opposition.Veteran actor Kamal Hassan’s movie “Vishwaroopam” faced protests from organizations in 2013 over the alleged negative portrayal of Muslims in the movie. The movie released worldwide, excluding Tamil Nadu where it was banned by the state government. The ban stayed for 15 days. Later, film critics concluded that there was nothing against any religion in the movie, and it just had scenes depicting brutalities of terror groups which undoubtedly, is a reality.

The list is long and in my opinion, every government appears to be guilty. But there seems to be no end as governments are weak before aggressive elements who, in the guise of history, religion and pride, continue to attack harmless pieces of art. While this can still be tolerable, any boorish act amounting to lawlessness has to be condemned and dealt with firmly by the police and the government.