Censorship in India

Re: Internet Censorship: Reasonable or Not?

To the Editor:

Given the general Indian propensity to ban books or films that don't meet somebody's approval, the legal notice sent by Congress, which is the dominant player in government, to the makers of a film on Sonia Gandhi will necessarily have a chilling effect on its producers. While our censors have frowned on books and films after they have been aired, this must be the first attempt to censor a film even before it is made. What's more, the film is based on a biographical work by author Rashid Kidwai that's been quite uncontroversial. The grounds on which the film project is being questioned makes for interesting reading. It's that the film hasn't been authorized by Sonia Gandhi or a member of her family. Further, it's feared that the film will be an inaccurate portrayal of her life. Several fundamental questions pose themselves here: When one makes a film about a public figure, does it necessarily have to be authorised by that figure? The very assumption that this needs to be so suggests a culture that favours censorship over the vital freedoms which make for vibrant politics. This tendency is attested to by the draconian media Bill that the government intends to move in Parliament.

The other fundamental question is about the accuracy or inaccuracy of portrayals — who makes that judgment? The moment you arrogate that power to a particular authority, you have Big Brother. Democracy must permit multiple truths to jostle with each other, so that we can determine for ourselves which one (or ones) we prefer. Article 19(2) admits certain reasonable restrictions that can be imposed on the freedom of speech that's guaranteed by the Constitution. Restrictions could be on the grounds of security of the state, public order, decency, defamation, incitement, and so on, but nowhere is truth or falsehood of the representation included in this list. It follows that the constitution gives us the right to lie. Psychologists have shown that the average person lies at least once a day, and lying is the foundation of modern industries such as law, advertising, diplomacy, politics. Stress has to be placed as well on the word "reasonable" in Article 19(2). Placing restrictions on a film before one knows what its contents are cannot be termed reasonable. One can make the case that any biographical film involves condensing a life into three hours, and is therefore a departure from reality. It's possible to get an authorised version straight from Sonia Gandhi's representatives which, however, is still a lie. More radically, art itself is a creative departure from truth; to disallow that is to limit the space for artistic expression.

New Delhi, India