Preserving Indian Culture

Yet another film has failed to get past the watchful eyes of the Central Board of Film Certification and secure a certificate for screening it in India. This time the reason for the Board’s “unanimous decision” is that it is ‘lady oriented’! This is insane, ridiculous and unbelievable, especially in a country that prides on its democratic system of polity.

It has now become the norm rather than exception to debar any film that does not conform to notions of ‘decency’, ‘morality’, ‘Indian tradition’ and so on as harboured by the members of the Board. A film director who thinks differently on any of these ideas is sure to encounter rough weathers in sailing through the process of certification.

The venerable Chairman of the CBFC has reportedly said that the film ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ has a strong feminist orientation, because of which the Board denied it a certificate.

The second reason is more obnoxious. The guardian angel of Indian culture in films has argued that CBFC is a government-run entity and, being so, has the responsibility to preserve the country’s culture. In other words, the message of this film goes against ‘India’s culture’ as understood by the CBFC and, by extension, the government of India; hence it cannot be certified.

The question is: since when being feminist or championing the cause of feminism has become an offence under the Indian statute?  People certainly have the right to have different views on the subject, and to express them through all legal means. That surely can’t be a reason to not allow the feminists their constitutional right to say what they want.

The claim of ‘preservation of Indian culture and tradition’ by the CBFC is preposterous. On any given day, CBFC certifies scores of so-called main-stream movies, which simply depict women in the most debased manner and as little more than commodities. Is such depiction of women in conformity with Indian culture or tradition? Since these films are approved by the CBFC’s, one may assume that patriarchal tyranny, male chauvinism and treatment of women as market products are indeed acceptable facets of Indian culture and tradition that need to be preserved, protected as well as promoted through the medium of cinema.

The attempts at censoring films like the one being discussed are not to be seen in isolation from the rising assaults on the right to differ on any issue of contention. Writers, poets, film makers, columnists and others who express opinions not always in line with the view of those “who cannot be named” are being increasingly harassed, abused, trolled, assaulted or even murdered in some cases, all in the name of preserving the holy cow of Indian culture and tradition.

It seems that violence against women, trampling on the rights of the weaker sections, issuing anti-constitutional fatwahs and dictates by religious bodies and vigilante groups aimed at stifling dissenting voices are all elements of this heritage. Sadly, in all this we do not see the State being true to its constitutional obligations.

We indeed are living in dangerous times.

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