By a thousand cuts

CBFC culls in a documentary on Amartya Sen reflect a sobering pattern — of the curbing of argument, intolerance of dissent.

By: Editorial | Published:July 14, 2017 12:08 am
CBFC, Amartya Sen, Amartya Sen documentary, Pahlaj Nihalani, Central Board of Film Certification, indian express editorial The bizarre demand for surgery on a documentary could be seen as part of a general phenomenon which is narrowing the spectrum of thought and expression by a thousand cuts.

Under the stewardship of Pahlaj Nihalani, the Central Board of Film Certification is going where no censor has dreamt of going before. From being a habitual objector to allegedly lurid images and bad language, it has graduated to being affrighted by everyday words and phrases. It has demanded the removal of terms like “Hindu India”, “Gujarat” and “cow” from The Argumentative Indian, a documentary on Amartya Sen. The organisation, set up to protect the public from the excesses of potboiler cinema, now presumes to cull the thoughts of one of India’s foremost public intellectuals.

The CBFC’s censoring of “Gujarat” and “cow” is the stuff of stereotypes about banana republics, but its presumption is no laughing matter. Presumably, it enjoys government support. The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting selects the board members and the chairman, and Nihalani’s appointment has been controversial. Immediately after assuming office, he had expressed profuse admiration for the prime minister, and board members had resigned en masse on account of his apparent proximity to the ruling party, the BJP. “Gujarat” is not the first place name that the board has objected to, and tried to scrub out. Nihalani had earlier issued a list of banned terms which included “Bombay”.

The arbitrariness had caused the CBFC much embarrassment when the list was leaked. The board, under him, ordered multiple deletions in Udta Punjab including references to “Punjab”.

The bizarre demand for surgery on a documentary could be seen as part of a general phenomenon which is narrowing the spectrum of thought and expression by a thousand cuts. This government has been seen to be impatient with its critics, and the effects have been visible from the time of the “award wapsi” of 2015, when many in the creative community rejected state recognition. It has allowed a disabling environment to develop which favours authorised versions, and in which the curbing or trashing of alternative opinions has gone unchecked. In the creative domain, the hounding of authors and filmmakers has been damaging for democracy. Nihalani himself has shown an unhealthy enthusiasm for censoring rather than certifying, which is the statutorily defined purpose of the CBFC. This has a stifling effect on creative expression in cinema, reflecting the attenuation of the public discourse. He, and his board, would be well advised to consider Sen’s warning in The Argumentative Indian — the book, not the documentary: “Nor let us be resentful when others differ from us… Their right is our wrong, and our right is their wrong.”

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  1. P
    Jul 14, 2017 at 10:26 pm
    The kind of biased guy Amartya Sen is, the whole movie can be cut. He doesn't deserve so much attention in India for a so called Nobel prize in a field where Noble prize was never intended. A fake field with fake research that is manipulating people for last 1 century with s-t-u-p-i-d concepts. His actions can only hurt India in short and long term, he doesn't care what India has given to world, he is west worshiping guy who still doesn't understand that it is society that makes government and government doesn't make society. He doesn't know how simple his ancestors were, wearing suit and speaking english and living among missionaries, people like Amartya can only teach fake simplicity to world. They are opposite of Gandhi and more opposite of those just one pajama wearing utterly simple farmers of india or almost naked possession-less sages of ancient india. Even if he wants to steal and peddle some reformulated Indian ideas as some theory of economics, he can't imbibe it.
    1. B
      Jul 14, 2017 at 1:02 pm
      where does modi and co pick specimens such as pehlaj nihalani from? oh well - pehlaj fulfills the ONE critertion that justifies every other lack of criterion - pehlaj is a shameless modi toady
      1. S
        Jul 14, 2017 at 12:35 pm
        What economists have given to this country only debates, discussons, writing articles or books and that too on borrowed ideas of foreign economists. Some like Mr. Sen behave as planted economists .
        1. G
          Jul 14, 2017 at 8:54 am
          Amartya Sen is more of a third rate hpolitician than an economist. His Intellectual dishonesty needs no elaboration.
          1. C
            Chitra Anand
            Jul 14, 2017 at 11:36 am
            Amartya Sen would perhaps consider an emotional outburst as this with perfect poise. His intellectual prowess is likely to analyse the hurt and biases of others objectively and understand their criticism and mis-information for what they are. It takes true mettle and insightful ness to realise that it is perfectly fine to utter cow, Gujarat and Hindu rashtra in unfavourable postures to the current government. Democracy thrives by two strong opposites. In today's India, one side is strong with potlitical power. Let the other side, not be suppressed by this tribe.
            1. G
              G YAGNESWARAN
              Jul 14, 2017 at 1:57 pm
              As of now the documentary is not in public domain. On what basis you are suggesting some words are fine. Sen is so much mentally blocked that he will never admit his own biases and follies.
              1. H
                Jul 14, 2017 at 10:28 pm
                Amaritya Sen is originally from East Bengal. So the question is why didn't his family stay there and fight for secularism here? After all Jinnah had declared his intention to create secular Pakistan . It time to tell these refugees we took pity on you and took you in, we expect you REFUGEES to BE BEASTOF BURDEN, not lecture us.
              2. B
                Jul 14, 2017 at 1:01 pm
                so who is your idea of a first rate economist? must surely be RSS - Rabid Subramaniam Swamy