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India, China on same censorship page?

world Updated: Aug 01, 2012 01:24 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times
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The Chinese establishment could have had a quiet chuckle last week. After all, it's the all-powerful and ruling Communist Party of China (CPC), which is perceived to have mastered the fine art of censorship. And however more chaotic or less developed than China it is, India tends to assume the moral higher ground on a few fields like democracy, free speech and, err, Bollywood.

So, last week when a video installation by artist Tejal Shah mentioning the word "Godhra" was pulled down faster than you could say Husain from an art exhibition in Beijing, authorities here I am certain couldn't stop grinning from ear to ear while looking the other way.

(Personally, I think they should actually be worried about competition because India could catch up pretty fast on censorship with China.)

The art work was part of the ongoing exhibition 'Indian Highway', the largest exposition of contemporary Indian art in Beijing.

The exhibit titled 'I Love My India' was on display for almost a month till there were online protests against it. Subsequently, the studio acquiesced to take down the piece after Indian diplomats told organisers that it had generated controversy in India; that there were howls of protests from sensitive souls who said mentioning the word "Godhra" was a conspiracy against Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi.

Some argued that a dark period in India's recent history shouldn't be publicised abroad. Well, before Beijing, the exhibition had travelled to London, New York and Oslo among other places. By that logic the Tiananmen Square massacre shouldn't be discussed anywhere. All dark days in our history should be conveniently wiped out from gullible memories.

If a democratic India tore a piece out from authoritarian China's handbook of A-to-Z of censorship and gagging, the former still has some learning to do.

Chinese authorities are methodical on the issue of censorship. For example, officials here studied each and every 200 Indian art works on display before they were put up. The studio had to explain what each exhibit meant, what each symbolised. China doesn't wait to censor but India will surely censor if push comes to a political backlash.

Also, the Indian request to pull down the exhibit was unusual because the Indian government wasn't involved in the exhibition; the embassy only hosted two artists in Beijing around the inauguration. It betrayed the worrying thinking that maybe 1000 comments on a website are all it could take for the government to pull down a Tejal or a Husain. The chuckles in a foreign country don't matter.