Tuesday, February 19, 2013

"Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice."

When we look at what is happening in Burma or Pakistan or Bangladesh, the classic response of Indian liberals is that India is a democracy and we are not like them. However, we can no longer afford this complacency. The world's greatest paintings, sculptures, lofty epics are asphyxiated, as prudes and prigs, and state moralists often prescribe archetypes and proscribe contentions. One can trace a history of book bans in India, starting from Kiran Nagarkars’s play Bedtime stories, to Aubrey Menon’s Rama retold; a satirical look on Ramayana, to Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses. Deepa Mehta's flick Fire was banned for showing a lesbian relationship which according to its opponents was against indian tradition and "distorts" indian culture. 

The banning ramanujam's essay - 300 Ramanayas - was justified by giving the argument that a student exposed to alternate ways of thinking will necessarily adopt them, instead of doing what is actually expected of students, which is to evaluate the information you are presented with.  If one can edit out inconvenient truths or inconvenient ways of seeing India's history from university syllabi, or ensure that there is silence around many subjects — a discussion of religion, a discussion of Shivaji's life or the lives of key players in the National Movement — we come one step closer to ensuring that it is only our narrow view of history and India that will gain ground. Its true that new ideas are often difficult to comprehend, and old convictions are hard to break down but one need to give ideas enough time for critical evaluation so that we can give credit to what we discern to be truth and discredit what we discern to be false.

If proponents of censorship cannot agree with the benefits associated with allowing diverse ideas to circulate freely, then we are presented with another dilemma: what authority would be allowed to determine which ideas are true and which are false? Human beings are not infallible and are apt to mistakenly view a false idea as truth or vice versa. In India the ban on the satanic verses was announced by its finance minister!! Who are they to decide what Indians may or may ot read. When Shiv Sena or Bajrang Dal or Vishwa Hindu Parishad attack MF Hussain's paintings or demand a ban on the film do they really have even a keen understanding of what the art is all about. How can they have the authority to decide the question for all mankind and exclude every other person from the means of judging. To refuse a hearing to an opinion because they are sure that it is false is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty.

I am not saying that censorship should be completely done away with. In the case of children below 18yrs it is required in some aspects. But at the same time it is also true that undeveloped capacities for logic and reason does not mean that their access to mature information should be denied. Instead they should receive guidance in how to properly interpret and evaluate the content of ideas presented to them. We need to believe in the capability and maturity of our new generation, who with their wide exposure in the global context will soon develop their own check-valves according to the needs of the day.

We claim to be living in an era of reforms. Yet, when it comes to questions of ‘morality’ or  ‘criticism’, we prefer status quo. We exhibit a mindset that is anything but reform-friendly, a mindset  that has stagnated through centuries in the swamp of colonized indoctrination. If we keep on censoring new ideas we will fail to develop as a society. It will jeopardize democracy by not allowing the public free access to knowledge, which is essential to preserving the liberty characteristic of a true democracy. . When educated masses burn temples and mosques, when these people start killing hindus, muslims, sikh in the name of religion, when they carry out murders in the name of girl child, how can you say that censorhip is will blot out circulation of false ideas and violence in society. We need to ask ourselves that are we responsible enough to make a true judgement?? Can we excercise true rsponsibility if given full freedom?? One must remember the fact that "censorship always defeats its own purpose, for it creates, in the end, the kind of society that is incapable of exercising real discretion".

No comments: