Over the years, many fringe groups in India have resorted to extra-legal (read violent) methods of censoring books, plays and films, and Raj Thackrey is threatening the same again. If the police took immediate action and jailed goons who tear down posters and ransack premises, and courts handed out three-four years in prison on charges of intentional destruction of property, trespassing etc, mob violence might probably all but disappear. What would not disappear, however, is censorship of the legal kind – the once practiced by government. And particularly the one resorted to by the Central Board of Film Certification.
The original Indian constitution stated that Indians had the right to freedom of speech and expression subject to article 19(2) –
Nothing in sub-clause (a) of clause (1) shall effect the operation of any existing law insofar as it relates to, or prevents the state from making any law relating to, libel, slander, defamation, contempt of court or any matter which offends the decency or morality or which undermines the security of, or tends to overthrow, the state.
A limited right corrupted by the use of undefinable words like “decency” and “morality”, but a right, nonetheless. But Nehru’s socialist government stripped us of all our rights by amending the constitution twice and introducing the concept of “reasonable restrictions”. So, if Indians cannot open their mouth without asking permission from the government, how can they make films or write books without fearing that Big Brother is always watching?
In 2002, Someswar Bhowmik wrote a brilliant article on how the crooked idea of film censorship was thought up and given legal armor. And it is scary how courts have consistently failed to protect the citizens from the whims of government and parliament. Filmmakers like Shyam Benegal and Govind Nihalani don’t like the idea of their cinematic liberties being curtailed. But Anurag Kashyap is probably one of CBFC’s worst victims since his film Paanch has not been granted certification. One excuse the CBFC gives – there are no positive characters in the film. So what, one might ask. But the constitution says “reasonable restrictions” can be placed on freedom of expression, and reasonable equals arbitrary. It was India’s Supreme Court, however, that dealt the death blow to freedom of expression when it said – “censorship by prior restraint is, therefore, not only desirable but also necessary.”.
Government sanctioned censorship is not a virtuous act but a brutal murder of the very idea of freedom.