In an interview after winning the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature at the Jaipur Literature Festival, author Jeet Thayil said that between censorship and self-censorship in India, there is a “very tiny space left for art, for it to be reproduced and for it to live”. Mr Thayil is right: ‘thought/cultural terrorism’ has become a regular phenomenon in India, with authorities only strengthening the hands of fringe elements by banning movies, art shows etc, all in the name of maintaining “law and order”. A recent case in point is Kamal Haasan’s latest film, a big-budget trilingual spy thriller: Vishwaroopam. Last week, the film was banned in Tamil Nadu after Muslim groups protested against it, saying that the film shows the community in a negative light. Unfortunately, the blackout spread to other neighbouring states as well: the movie was initially released in Andhra Pradesh, but the distributor later decided to cancel screenings in Hyderabad. The film has not screened at all in Bangalore. However, it continues to run in Kerala despite protests.
By banning the movie, the Tamil Nadu government went against a Supreme Court order that says that once the censor board clears a film, it should be allowed to be screened. On Monday, the Madras High Court postponed its order till Tuesday on the release of the film in Tamil Nadu, asking the actor-director to look for an amicable solution. Instead of banning the film, the government should have given police protection to the theatres and left it to the audience to decide whether the film is offensive or not. Meanwhile in Jaipur, political sociologist and author Ashis Nandy created a controversy by saying that those from the SCs/STs and OBCs were most corrupt. Though Mr Nandy later clarified the context of the comment, the damage had already been done with cases filed against him. Obviously, the protesters were not ready to engage with him/or understand the context, proving once again that there’s hardly room for debate anymore.
Ironically, Mr Nandy was speaking at a session titled: ‘Republic of Ideas’. As past and recent attacks on artists and thought leaders show, India is hardly a Republic of ideas anymore.