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Should Freedom of Expression Be Permitted Unlicensed?

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One can express one’s thoughts through all means and full freedom has been granted to do so. But then, of course, not in the matter of writing books or articles in magazines or newspapers or exhibiting a piece of art in painting or sculpture, but in the matter of exhibition of films there is a Board of Censors which issues the certificate for the exhibition of a film.

This Board does apply its scissors in cutting out certain parts which to them appear to go against any social dictum or any religious sentiment or any national issue.

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Too much openness in sex; too much goriness in violence or too much lewdness in expressions, physical or vocal have been cut down by this Board of Censors on so many occasions and in so many cases. There have been controversies raised on such cuts in many cases.

Recent examples have been the ‘cuts’ required by the Board of Censors on Shekhar Kapoor’s ‘Elizabeth’ in which the love-making scene and the word ‘quinsy’ and the ‘beheading’ scene were to be removed or in Kamal Hassan’s ‘Hey Ram’ in which some scenes depicting sexual encounters though not very apparent have been required to be deleted.

Deepa Mehta’s ‘Water’ had been in the midst of great controversy even after the deletion of some dialogues. It had been agitated against on a large scale during its shooting schedule on the banks of the Ganges in Varanasi and the agitators had questioned the concept and theme of the film and called it as an attack on the cultural ethos of India, particularly in relation to the lives of widows who, while coming to live on the ‘ghats’ of the Ganga in Varanasi, have been led to a life of prostitution.

This aspect of their lives might have some truth in some case but is not the whole truth in all cases while the film depicts it as a common and general way of life with young widows.

This besmears even the unpolluted ones amongst them and is a blatant attack on their moral conduct. In the name of ‘freedom of expression’ as guaranteed under Article 19(1) of the Constitution several political parties have tried to take a political mileage out of the issue and have dubbed the agitation against the film as the handiwork of Hindu fundamentalists — the RSS or the Shiv Sena.

M.F. Hussain, the renowned painter took the liberty of painting Hindu goddesses in the nude or painting ‘Sita’ as sits on the tail of Hanuman. What did he want to represent through these paintings symbolically one fails to understand, but these paintings did offend the Hindu sensibility and the result was that his painting studio was attacked and damaged.

Kamal Hassan’s ‘Hey Ram’ was dubbed by some congressmen as anti-Gandhi as if, Gandhi was the sole property of the congressmen and they demonstrated against it. Kamal Hassan had to come out with the pronouncement that he had all the regard for Gandhi and never meant any disrespect to him or in any way made any attempt to exculpate his murderers.

What all this discussion above means is that ‘freedom of expression’, if interpreted in the manner as projected by the makers of the films or by those who stood up in support of M.F. Hussain, then such an interpretation cuts both ways. If the makers of the films or the painters of such paintings stand by the ‘freedom of expression’, the agitators against them, in whatever manner they did it or are doing it, would say that they also have the ‘freedom ‘to express their resentment and their ‘disapproval’. So such sort of interpretation of the term ‘freedom of expression’ is bound to create chaos and confusion and disturb the peace of the society.

Salman Rushdie’s book ‘Satanic Verses’ had to be banned in several countries and India also toed the line as its contents went against the sensibilities of the Muslim psyche.

Therefore the freedom granted under Article 19(1) of the Constitution has to be rightly understood and has not to be misunderstood as guaranteeing one to say or do or express anything in any manner and get away with it. The social psyche and the social perspective of India has to be taken due note of.

India has a conglomeration of creeds, religions, and ethos and this aspect of the Indian society cannot be ignored by film-makers, artists and writers and the ‘freedom of expression’ has to be used with caution and with due regard to the social sensibilities of the variegated Indian society.

Freedom should not be misjudged as license to do or say anything with impunity. This ‘freedom’ shall have to take an account of other people’s freedom of thought and belief. To quote the English essayist, A.G. Gardiner, ‘Liberty is not a personal affair but a social contract; it is an accommodation of interests.’

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