Monday, February 20, 2006

Moral Policing

While sitting in front of the TV last night I (sort of) saw something that caught my eye. The channel (can't remember which one) had carried out a survey on the Mumbai dance bar topic. 40% of the people in Mumbai thought that the reason these bars were shut down was the interests of a political party. 38% said it was to crack down on prostitution while the others said something about moral policing and other reasons. The second question the channel asked was 'Do you think moral policing is necessary?' The answer was 'Yes' from a resounding 92% of the voters. 6% said no while the rest were undecided. Hmmm. You can see where this could go...

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Friday, February 17, 2006

the danish cartoons-did you hear anyone laugh?

I have been talking and more importantly, thinking about the Danish cartoon row incessantly since the last two days, while participating in a workshop on journalism, being conducted by Ursula Owen and Judith Vidal-Hall, editors of the London-based journal ‘Index on Censorship’. Here are some things which I still havn’t been able to understand about the debate-

- why were the cartoons printed in about 20 newspapers, atleast four months after being published for the first time, in a Danish newspaper on the 30th of September,2005?

- they were printed, as the Danish newspaper said, to test the limits of freedom of expression. Would the paper have published similar insulting lampoons on blacks, gays and feminists or would it choose to become ‘politically correct’ then?

- why did the Danish Prime Minister refuse to meet or talk to the Danish muslims who had protested against the original publication and wanted to discuss it with him? He has repeatedly referred to the problem as one between ‘one paper and some muslims’. Is it because he just couldn’t imagine that the controversy could snowball into something so huge? Or is it because he thought that Palestinian suicide bombers (which I’m sure are all the people he identifies as ‘muslims’) were too busy strapping bombs onto themselves to read and understand a cartoon published in an alien tongue in a foreign land?

- The protests against the cartoons have been violent. Personally speaking, I wish it hadn’t been so. And yet , I wonder why we did not get to know about the cartoons and the peaceful protests, as soon as they happened . Is it because peaceful protests aren’t ‘newsworthy’? Why did we get to know of them as soon as they turned violent? Is violence ‘newsworthy’? And is violence the only way then, for protestors to make their presence felt?

- Isn’t the West’s proclamation of ‘multiculturalism’ only a sham if they can’t take the religious sentiments of other communities seriously?

- And lastly, I recognize the fact that a democracy supports the right to criticize but is criticism against something one doesn’t understand justified? What did the cartoonist know about Prophet Muhammad or about Islam to make such a comment? Did he have adequate knowledge and authority to take a moral call on a man, who has changed the way a significant portion of the world think and live?

These are only some of the questions posed by a controversy which will probably have significant political ramifications in the years to come. Answers to them are admittedly, not very easy to find. But it’s important for us, nevertheless, to ask such questions.

Because only the right questions………….. can lead us to the right answer.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Censoring Viragos

The brief discussion that we had with the two ladies from Virago provided a somewhat better idea of censorship than the ridiculous and exasperating tirades of Messrs. Bhadra and Chatterjee. They were frank enough to admit that they did not have all the answers to our questions, and admitted freely that we could disagree with them, especially on the question of absolute freedom of expression. Personally , I feel that censorship should be implemented in extreme cases, especially hate groups. Any takers?

I suggest that the results of the Seagull workshop should be put online in full, as it will be of immense help to the course.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Of seminars and toons...

‘However ‘with it’ JUDE might be, a course is a course is a course, and there are some rules. Hence the compulsion of talking about and/or writing papers on things you haven’t a clue about, which, we’re told in candid moments, is the rite of initiation into academics. The trick, apparently, is to be confidently confused (obscure too, if you can manage it) so that everybody (nearly…) puts incomprehension down to his or her own stupidity. And applauds loudly. It’s therefore a rare delight to have the opportunity to write a paper (of sorts) on other people who haven’t a clue what they’re on about, and are blissfully unaware of it. It helps, perhaps, that neither of them are technically ‘academics’.

We shall, however, play nice and not speak too ill of them. The much publicized panel discussion on censorship started without the star attraction, Ms. Nasreen. Never a good sign. The two other speakers were, at best, irrelevant. I take nothing away from FAS – certainly, they deserve credit for the kind of work they are doing: showcasing films banned arbitrarily from Nandan at the whims of the head of state, short films which would otherwise have gone entirely unnoticed, organizing sessions with directors – but it would have been less of a wasted effort if the two panellists had kept in mind that:

1. The topic of the evening was ‘Censorship’.

2. They were addressing an audience consisting of almost exclusively University students belonging to the Faculty of Arts, who would have considered a familiarity with the basic premises of democracy, hegemony and State-sponsored censorship a prerequisite to such a seminar, and would therefore justifiably have considered a skewed expounding of the definitions of the same for over an hour a considerable waste of their time.

There really is very little to say about the seminar, which leant heavily towards personal anecdotes and did not touch ‘censorship’ except when it came as an aside into their narrative, chiefly in the guise of the (film) Censor Board of India.

The cleverer ones among us will probably see this post – my attitude – as a censoring of the panel discussion. Well, no, see, because I didn’t have the power, the authority to stop the seminar just because it did not meet my approval. Mr. Bhattacharya did, and hence A Day from a Hangman’s Life was removed from Nandan.

The whole point of this blog, as I understand it – apart from being cynical about the chances of true freedom of speech and expression – is to promote and preserve the right to act like I (and those in the audience who did not exercise their choice to walk out) did, irrespective of our power to influence the situation. The conscious decision not to rise to obvious baits, because that only prolongs and makes ugly a few moments of annoyance or inadvertent entertainment, depending on one’s point of view. Joseph’s film wasn’t an exceptional one in any respect, and the attention it received was chiefly due to its censor, providing several a platform to bolster their libertarian public image.

But here’s the catch: discretion in censorship is then, perhaps, the key to those censoring, as well? If something isn’t paid any attention, if something is pointedly and aggressively ignored, it usually goes away. And once it fades from public memory, it usually stays faded. In fact, it took me a couple of minutes to realise the film was about the Dhananjay Chatterjee, who was the staple headline just over a year back.

The trouble with something as broad a term as 'censorship' is that it’s much more context-dependant than most. If we chose not to scream ‘Get to the point!’ at the speakers at Monday’s seminar it was because it would have been futile. A waste of energy, to speak nothing of rudeness. Besides, what would we have achieved? A couple of embarrassed gentlemen? An expulsion from the hall? And who knows, there might have been people who actually enjoyed the seminar. What right had we to spoil it for them?

Doesn’t hold water, this peaceful tolerance, when it comes to this. Then again, why not? Why must people be so sensitive about religion?
Indeed, and why shouldn’t they be?
Look, what does it matter if non-believers say about us?
Exactly. What right do they have to mock us and ours?

You see the problem.

I have spent a year blogging, and am notorious for long posts that refuse to make a point. So I shall merely link to two people I read regularly, both scornful of political correctness and sometimes, even the social hypocrisies we pass off as multicultural sensitivity. As Sam Vimes often says, just because you’re an ethnic minority (any sort, anywhere), doesn’t mean your parents were necessarily married.

Here’s JAP’s take on the issue, which makes a very important point in one sentence: Morons. They just created another 257,385 Islamic suicide bombers. Bloody cretins.

And here’s the ever irreverent Arnab’s – incidentally, a BE from JU – post on it. He makes way too many very valid points in his characteristics style for me to list here. Do read. And don’t forget to click on the links. They’re there for a reason.

The issue of censorship has, in our intellectual context today, taken on very controversial colours. Last year, the Joshy Joseph film One Day from a Hangman’s Life, about, obviously, one day in the life of the much-maligned Nata Mullick (chosen executioner for Dhananjoy Chatterjee, the man accused of the rape and homicide of a teenaged girl), was banned from being screened at Nandan, allegedly because it was attracting too few viewers. (When, one feels tempted to ask, does Nandan attract too many?). At a recent discussion – held immediately after a screening of the above film – on censorship, therefore, one expected fireworks and the odd bolt of greased lightning. One, sadly, was disappointed.

The film itself, though sometimes claustrophobic and always interestingly shot, is flaccid and frequently overcrowded with metaphoric intention. The speakers, ostensibly talking of censorship in modern society, more often than not veered away into impassioned rhetoric. They were both highly subjective, given to rants on issues pertaining to the validity (or not) of the death penalty, the corruption of the bureaucracy, and the selfishness of modern man; practically everything, it appeared, other than the bone of contention, ie, censorship.

The discussion seemed to freewheel into that disease of numerous contemporary reviewers – synopsizing and overemphasis on content – so much as to even incorporate highly inventive theorising on what “might have been”. The point about censorship was completely lost amid the declamatory waves of lyricism and intensely one-sided opinions. The first speaker even suggested that the film had not shown what should have been shown. In an atmosphere that had as its dominant tone the right to freedom of expression, this struck a slightly ironic chord.

Interestingly, what eventually emerged were forceful meditations on the merits of Costa-Gavras’s Missing (supposedly banned in Latin America), Tim Robbins’s Dead Man Walking (after all, it is based on a book by one of the leading American advocates for the abolition of the death penalty), and Alan Parker’s Mississippi Burning. The opinion of the speakers seemed to be commendable and uncomplicated – censorship is reprehensible, banning more so. This unipolar discussion left no room for more delicate issues, such as the censorship of “hate speech”. According to Erwin Chemerinsky (“The Court's Recent, Controversial Cross-Burning Ruling, And Why It Was Correct”) “some argue that hate speech perpetuates discrimination and wounds those who long have been victims. Others argue that it is wrong for the government to deem any viewpoint, however vile, outside the bounds of the First Amendment. On April 7, 2003, in the case of Virginia v. Black, the Supreme Court held that cross-burning [by the Ku Klux Klan] with intent to intimidate is not protected by the First Amendment.” Although the First Amendment does not outlaw the expression of fiercely racist views, it understands that such views hardly ever remain merely verbal. So, the bench on the above case put forth three principles: 1. Some cross-burning is free speech, 2. Cross-burning proven to be threatening can be made illegal, and 3. Intent to intimidate must be proven, not inferred from the fact.

The tightrope that the censorship debate walks is complicated by such instances of revolting hate, one such instance being perhaps the founding of the second Ku Klux Klan in 1915 (the first was destroyed in the 1870s), possibly inspired by the newfound power of the mass-media, via the film Birth of a Nation and inflammatory and anti-Semitic newspaper accounts surrounding the trial and lynching of accused murderer Leo Frank. It is no small wonder then, that these contentious issues did not even find mention in what ultimately proved to be an abstract, platitudinal, non-discussion on censorship.

Sudipto Sanyal
UG3, Roll No.201
“Literature and Censorship”

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The point... to create a blog, on Tintinda's command :-), where all members of the literature and censorship optional course might post on the subject. A few rather preposterous sounding suggestions:

1. Assuming you write your posts offline in MS Word, please copy/cut- paste the whole into Notepad (the *.txt format) before pasting it in the blogger editor.

2. Please, please, please put links to any censorship related article/site you might come across, apart from your own writings.

3. Those not invited yet, do leave your email addresses in the comment section and I will send you an invite ASAP.

4. Since this is a censorship related blog, we'll avoid irony, right, and NOT turn word-verification on or turn the option for annonymous commentators to comment off. Play nice.

Oh, and for those new to this, I'm Priyanka of UG III, popularly known in the department (half of which consists of bloggers) and online as Rimi.