India’s democratic values can’t sustain a simple cinema test, the episode draws attention to a wide issue of India’s discriminatory practices against artists and professional minorities.
Bhobishyoter Bhoot (Ghost of the Future), Anik Dutta’s fourth film, was suddenly removed from theatres on February 16 just after running for a day. Reports suggest that Kolkata Police mentioned to the producers about the possible political incitement because of film’s content. The movie is said to have targeted Mamata Banerjee, and placed Trinamool Congress in a bad light.
The event unfolded in the backdrop of Mamata-CBI face-off. Mamata Banerjee, Chief Minister of West Bengal, projected a high pitched narrative of protecting democracy and rule of law amid CBI row, contrary to this, she came down heavily on a piece of art which had passed the litmus test of Central Board of Film Certification. This is shockingly opposite to Mamata’s stance on Padmavaat which she welcomed,”The Padmavati controversy is not only unfortunate but also a calculated plan of a political party to destroy the freedom to express ourselves. We condemn this super emergency. All in the film industry must come together and protest in one voice.” Against this, her silence on Bhobishyoter Bhoot is deafening. It is now evident that her opinion on Padmavaat was not about free speech but it was just a political gambit to counteract incumbent Bhartiya Janata Party which is primarily backed by Hindutva elements.
Several voices from the Indian film and art fraternity have registered their dissent note but political turpitude is still at helm. Artist Kunal Sen remembers his father’s days,” Mrinal Sen experienced similar political stifling of freedom of expression. At that time I truly believed it was a knee-jerk reaction and an attempt by the ruling forces to intimidate the filmmakers and it will dissolve away very soon. It has been more than three weeks now, and no one has yet taken responsibility and the police, the theatre owners, and the government have remained strangely silent. In the meantime it has grown from an unprecedented but isolated event into a political movement that has resulted in many grass root protests and culminated in a hugely successful public rally today, attended by many known faces.”
Anik Dutta’s movies are perceived to be highly political but the ban on movies in India is not something new. Director Prakash Jha had to face similar outrage over his socio-political drama Aarakshan which was based on India’s reservation system. The ban culture illustrates the discrimination emanating from India’s structural framework. Dramatic Performances Act, 1876 continues to intimidate artists, Section 292 of Indian Penal Code makes obscenity a criminal offence. Less are the strong men like M F Husain and Perumal Murugan who stand for their voices against discrimination and emerge victorious.
The extension of Kasper-Lippert Rasmussen’s theory on discrimination to the Indian paradigm hints at oppression and subordination India’s institutions have been suffering from. The discrimination, de facto and de jure, generates the political powerlessness and the political cadres running India’s institutions supplemented by the political stigma entertains the privileges in the garb of this powerlessness. Baroda’s 2007 obscenity row is the epitome of the powerlessness which for the first time in 21st century highlighted India’s colonial mindset. A final-year postgraduate student, Srilamanthula Chandramohan invited trouble from Hindutva forces for some of his paintings which irked BJP. Chandramohan, despite being the topper of his batch, was denied his degree. Having waited for his degree and a response from the varsity for over a decade, the artist felt discriminated. In February 2018, he entered the vice chancellor’s office and set it on fire, leading to his arrest.
The kind of discrimination in India is unique as it is also connected with food habits. The vegetarianism diktat is not only restricted to India’s common men, India’s richest Mukesh Ambani, a strict vegetarian, banned all non-vegetarian products from his Reliance Retail chain.
The ban culture in India is a ramification of discriminatory Brahmanical ideology which Indian institutions indirectly promote, and it has now become the source of indirect discrimination. Emile Durkheim in his scholarly works observes caste system as a system of labour division from which the element of competition has been largely excluded. It is the same notion in practice today. Indian democracy is a manifestation of authoritarianism which rests on a hierarchy and it imbues discrimination. Mamata Banerjee is a Brahmin and it might be her casteist stake which doesn’t make her feel nice to criticism, hence a ban.
While delivering the presidential address of the Hindi Sahitya Sammelan, Udaipur, on October 6, 1945, K M Munshi, father of India’s Fundamental Rights, had said:
“In 1916, I wrote a short story called ‘My Temporary Wife.’ Then Gujarat grew very angry. Some critics said that it would have been better if my hand had been cut off…But when I write, I do not write for others, but in order to fulfill myself. I tear my heart open in bringing forth its hidden treasure. If you can appreciate it, take it; if you cannot, throw it away. But I shall body forth in towards only that beauty which is born of my imagination, those cultural values which make up my equipment and my ideas. I will not be a father to other people’s children.”
It is rightly said about India that fathers of Indian Constitution gave a powerful weapon to their nation but failed to make capable men to use it.
Author is an editor at Academia.edu and Wikiprojects, contributes to Getty Images, and writes on Indian polity and jurisprudence.