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Shrinking Freedom of Expression - The case of the film Padmavati

India - Culture: Vigilante mobs decide over what films get shown in the cinema

21 November

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The Times of India, November 20, 2017

Say-na Sena: For every book or movie or nightclub, there’s a self-appointed Sena saying na na

by Sagarika Ghose

The Karni Sena is outraged by the film Padmavati. When it comes to a possible crush that sultan Alauddin Khilji had on a Hindu Rani, the Sena believes it’s time to say-na. The Karni Sena has even attacked a movie theatre that dared to show a trailer of the film and actor Deepika Padukone has been threatened. Padmavati may have broken Khilji’s heart, and she may also soon leave a trail of broken cinema complexes. Today there are many senas who have declared themselves protectors of Indian culture. The film Padmavati is seen to be injurious to Rajput pride, but what about the pride we Indians take in our rich tradition of movie-making? The Karni Sena is offended by any suggestion of carnal lust but the Karnis are positively carni-vorous when it comes to violence.

They are not alone. Remember the Sri Ram Sena (or Sene) which beat up young women who were seen wearing jeans and sipping a beer at a Bangalore pub? On modern women or medieval ranis, senas believe in being na-sayers.

Then there’s the Hindu Sena which has celebrated its hero Donald Trump’s birthday. There’s the Ranvir Sena which enforces upper caste writ through violence. There’s the Sambhaji Brigade (brigade being a loose translation of the word sena) which ransacked a research institute, so incensed was it by a book on Shivaji. Not to mention the boss of all senas, the Shiv Sena, which has not spared anyone from cricketers, actors, journalists, to writers, TV anchors, even visiting Pakistanis. Sena-ism is the Sena-sex of the cultural stock exchange. When senas play censors on books, movies and art then we are sena-tenced to remaining in a cultural prison. Arguing against a sena might leave you with bruises on your seena.

Politicians are powerless against senas because many netas are themselves senapatis. They often rail against Nobel laureate Sen but won’t attack senas. That’s because of the powerful votebank of hurt sena-timents. Law enforcing agencies are helpless too because policing culture is much easier than genuinely cultured policing. When it comes to morality cops, most politicians prefer to cop out. Who cares about a box office hit if the ballot box flops? Nobody is concerned that when Padmavati is actually released, audiences might vote with their feet anyway so the Sena is only helping the film to become a sena-sation. But today for every movie or book, there’s a sena saying na na.

[ sena : refers to army
na na means : No No ]

The Times of India, November 9, 2017

Tyranny of hurt sentiments

by Ravi Shanker Kapoor

Padmavati Controversy Typifies How, in India, Democracy is Made to Stand on its Head

The needless controversy surrounding the Sanjay Leela Bhansali-directed Padmavati is just an episode in the Indian saga of appeasement of the sanctimonious, the mischievous and the tetchy. For too long the enemies of liberty have been dealt with kid gloves. Filmmakers, authors, journalists and, most shamelessly, politicians have humoured the self-appointed guardians of morality, public order, decency, etc.

Therefore, the anti-freedom villains need to be confronted. This can be done by exposing the fallacy of the concept of ‘hurting sentiments’ and comprehending its baleful effects on a liberal democracy.

In our country, wrong questions are asked when somebody cries that their sentiments or feelings have been hurt because of some movie, song, book, etc. Public debate revolves around such questions as: Whether there is any merit in the protests? Did the artist or author actually do something offensive? Were sentiments really hurt? Were the demands made for a ban just? Why should a movie be banned when it has been cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification?

But the fundamental question is: How valid are the demands for proscription based on the principle of hurt sentiments or feelings? The Indian Constitution imposes “reasonable restrictions” on the fundamental right to freedom of expression. The restrictions can be imposed for the maintenance of “the security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency or morality, or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.”

But the restrictions ought to be reasonable; nowhere in the Constitution is it mentioned that hurting somebody’s sentiments can be a ground for curtailment of the freedom of expression.

The grounds restricting the freedom of expression have to be reasonable and not sentimental, not only because it is the constitutional position but also because reasons can be objectively debated, while sentiments and feelings can’t be. Merriam Webster describes ‘sentiment’ as ‘an attitude, thought, or judgment prompted by feeling’, ‘predilection’, ‘a specific view or notion’, ‘opinion’, ‘an idea colored by emotion’, etc. Similarly, ‘feeling’ is defined as, among other things, ‘an emotional state or reaction’ and ‘often unreasoned opinion or belief’.

It is crystal clear that the defining feature of sentiments and feelings is subjectivity. This is the reason that while many Hindus say that some of MF Husain’s paintings hurt their feelings and thus should be banned, many of their co-religionists don’t feel offended by the paintings concerned. There is no objective standard that can lead to the decision that the feelings of the tetchy can be privileged over those of the tolerant.

It is true that there are legal provisions, for example Section 295A of the Indian Penal Code, that criminalise anything deliberately and maliciously “outraging the religious feelings of any class”. But, as argued above, these sections militate against the spirit as well as letter of the Constitution.

The law and public administration are moulded, or should be moulded, by objective realities. Poetry is to sentiments and subjectivity what political philosophy is to statecraft, jurisprudence, and objectivity. In India, however, the founding principles of polity have grown poetic in nature since Independence.

It is not surprising that sentimentality and sanctimoniousness, those illegitimate children of poetry, figure highly in the manifestos, speeches, statements, and announcements of political parties. The upshot is that reason and informed arguments have taken a back seat in public discourse. It is sentimentalism all the way.

Without the ballasts of rationality, poise and gravity, sentiments behave like malfunctioning robots; fortuitous combinations of circuits make their working arbitrary and often dangerous. Unbridled sentimentalism occasions the basest human instincts, grossest emotions, and stupidest ideas; it promotes the proclivity to capitulate to the cantankerous and the intractable; and it inevitably results in politicians’ covenants with self-righteous charlatans and pious goons.

All in the name of not hurting sentiments. The biggest casualty, of course, is the freedom of expression. Sentimentalism also pollutes the public discourse; some stark facts are lost sight of.

For instance, millions of Indians have travelled to Western countries where they get exposed to writings and audio-visual depictions slamming, ridiculing and blaspheming all religions, often in the crudest manner. But there is hardly any report of any Indian Hindu, Muslim or Sikh vandalising a cinema hall, exhibition, or literary festival. Why is it that their sentiments – which overwhelm them to the extent of provoking them to beat artists in India – don’t get hurt in the US, UK, or France?

The answer is simple: They know that there would be very unpleasant consequences. For the rule of law is a reality in Western countries – not a slogan as in India. It is as it ought to be in a liberal democracy: anybody can say or do anything so long as they don’t harm others.

In our country, on the other hand, democracy stands on its head: professional protesters can hurt a filmmaker or any other creative person physically and financially so long as they can convince the powers that be that the action was the result of ‘hurt sentiments’. It’s worse than that: often, the enemies of freedom also get immunity and patronage from those who matter.

It’s time democracy, as it exists, was turned upside down or more precisely right side up; it’s time the concept of hurt sentiments and offended feelings was discarded.

o o o

[ RELATED RELEVANT READINGS:

Bully’s day out http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/editorials/bullys-day-out-rajasthans-shri-rajput-karni-sena-vandals-padmavati-film-shooting-sanjay-leela-bhansali-movie-4572420/

The republic of cowardice http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/padmavati-controversy-karni-sena-rajputs-chittor-the-republic-of-cowardice-4950114/

Rajputs redux - Padmini’s long afterlife https://www.telegraphindia.com/opinion/rajputs-redux-188019

Stifling Padmavati http://www.tribuneindia.com/news/editorials/stifling-padmavati/498710.html

Padmavati Row: BJP’s Objection Over Distorting History Is The Double Standard Of 2017 http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2017/11/20/padmavati-row-bjps-objection-over-distorting-history-is-the-double-standard-of-2017_a_23282527/

Padmavati release postponed: By failing to act against early attacks, government emboldened the mob https://thereel.scroll.in/858437/the-triumph-of-the-mob-as-padmavatis-producers-postpone-release-who-is-really-to-blame

The many Padmavatis http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/the-many-padmavatis/article20492672.ece

Padmavati controversy: Beneath Rajput anxiety about depiction of Padmini lies a deep-seated complex http://www.firstpost.com/india/padmavati-controversy-beneath-rajput-anxiety-about-depiction-of-padmini-lies-deep-seated-complex-4218287.html

Stories of a Rajput queen http://indianexpress.com/article/opinion/columns/padmavati-alauddin-khalji-rana-ratan-singh-chittor-rajasthan-stories-of-a-rajput-queen-4940877/

The loony fringe has an unbridled licence to assault creativity
https://theprint.in/2017/11/20/fringe-elements-assault-creativity/amp/ ]

P.S.

The above articles from The Times of India are reproduced here for educational and non commercial use