By Rajasvi Gandhi
The Information and Broadcast Ministry has denied the screening of four films at the Kerala Film Festival. The first two films, Mohajir and In the Shadow of Chinar, deal with unrest and turbulence in Kashmir. The third film, The Unbearable Being of Lightness, is†on the suicide of Hyderabad University scholar Rohith Vemula, and the fourth, March, March, March,†on the protests at Jawaharlal Nehru University.
These documentaries were deemed too ‘sensitive’ to be allowed the green light for the upcoming festival and any subsequent screenings that may follow. According to officials from the Ministry, potential films are evaluated on four parameters, and these four movies failed the ‘sensitivity’ test. Owing to their supposed sensitive nature, these films were said to threaten the national integrity of the country.
Is art the problem?
A key observation that can be made in this situation is the denial of government authorised bodies such as the I&B Ministry. This is seen particularly towards art forms that are deemed questionable in their stance, or those that move away from well-established cinematic tropes. Art that may invite the public to introspect or raise questions about political situations is often seen as disruptive.
In such circumstances, freedom of expression and artistic creativity are often sacrificed for ideas like national integrity. In this vein, it is profoundly contradictory to conclude that these documentaries pose a threat solely because they discuss current problems faced by the country.
What art actually does
In the words of AK Balan, Keralaís Cultural Affairs minister, a documentary cannot be branded as anti-national just because it deals with current socio-political issues. Why, indeed, should artists shy away from engaging with the social and political spheres? Should art that mirrors reality be automatically deemed controversial and problematic? Aside from providing fresh insight into comprehensive situations, art helps break away from the idea that politics belongs only to the governing class.
In an active democracy, political discourse must be reclaimed as the domain of the public, open to questions and critiques. Art forms a major part of such an effort, as it can often bring to light minority perspectives that are usually ignored. It also grounds political rhetoric in reality and showcases the myriad ways that the government and the governed interact.
Government becomes the villain
The current political scenario in India does extremely little to protect and encourage freedom of speech and expression. In fact, it does quite the opposite. This is evident from various incidents like the temporary ban on NDTV India by the Information and Broadcast Ministry to the numerous incidents of lynching for perceived immoral or lawless acts. The diversity of thought, an aspect central to both art and democracy, has too often been sidelined for a rhetoric of toxic nationality, wherein every divergent voice is silenced to protect the nationís security.
In a warped consideration of democracy, Amit Shah, chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party, declared that prolonged dissent and anti-India statements cannot be tolerated. Unsurprisingly, most accepted discourses revolve around majoritarian ideas, and any conflicting expression is, without exception, singled out and vetoed.
Censoring the freedom of expression
More worrying is the social environment such bans nurture, where any viewpoint besides the one endorsed, must be censored. The curtailing of freedom of expression and diverse worldviews is often an indication of a deeper fascist political inclination. Censorship occurs when art is not criticised for its artistic merits but for the controversial message it conveys. This occurs when the message is deemed less significant than the subscription to a particular moral code.
The role of free artistic expression is among the factors central to a democracy. This is because a democratic country must maintain a flow of dialogue unfettered by majoritarian ideas in order to critically examine policies from all possible perspectives. This freedom involves an acceptance of diversity, even more so in the face of political and social instability. Artists do not exist in a vacuum and to attack them for engaging with social issues is to subject their autonomy. This, by extension, undermines the rights of the society in favour of the political convictions of those in power. Depriving artists of freedom for creativity is clear evidence that there exists a cultural emergency.
Featured Image Credit: Visual Hunt
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