That’s what competitive intolerance is turning India into

The reason why India has a censor board is so that a group of reasonable, responsible and representative citizens can act as guardians of public morality of the cinematic kind. Whether censorship itself is desirable or not, entrusting the job to a censor board is far better than entrusting it to one person or group.That’s one reason Priyaranjan Dasmunshi, India’s minister for information and broadcasting, should have left The Da Vinci Code to the censor board. Instead, not only did he ask the censor board to hold back from making its call, he also announced that a final decision on its screening will be made after he has watched it in the company of members from the Catholic church.

Meanwhile, that movie will be released worldwide, with simultaneous screenings not only in Rome, but also in many Catholic majority countries. If the Minister and the ministers give it a thumbs down after their joint viewing session, the UPA government would have succeeded in turning India into a laughingstock. Not least because Dan Brown’s book is available in bookstores and streetcorners.

India has always been a religious society. The problem is not so much religiosity itself, but the exhibitionist intolerance that arises from the politicisation of religion. Indeed, this has unleashed competitive intolerance, where each community seeks to outdo the other in demonstrating thinness of skin and thereby, its political weight. (We got a movie banned. You? Ah! We burnt down a library) The culture of community-based entitlements that the UPA government has cynically encouraged only ensures that communities of every stripe have every incentive of putting up an agitated show of displeasure to signal their demands to be counted.

Dasmunshi’s decision to seek the Catholic church’s approval sets a troublesome precedent. If he applies this principle across the board, Dasmunshi will be watching many movies in the company of any number of interest groups whose fragile sentiments may have been hurt by filmmakers. The censor board should be allowed to do its job without political interference. Its decisions can always be challenged in the judiciary. India has an institutional mechanism to deal with such things as controversial films. The Catholic Church of India is not a part of that.

Related Links: Reuben Abraham, Patrix and JK and Gaurav Sabnis are all outraged. Atanu Dey had written about this sometime ago. Naveen Mandava discusses it in the context of rule of law and economic freedom.

30 thoughts on “Laughingstock”

  1. Nitin,

    Here’s the best part – most people calling for the ban wouldn’t have gotten even within a foot of the book. Much less seen the movie.

    And the Indian government perhaps forgets that for the amount of diversity we have, every which group can get “offended” for one silly reason or another.

  2. If one has unflinching faith in one’s religion nothing can shake it. Are the christians so week in their faith that they fear some novel and a movie on their faith that is not according to their holy book?

  3. Nitin,

    The next film Dasmunshi is going to watch with learned and esteemed gentlemens is “Flight 93”.

    After all, wasn’t 9/11 a dirty Jewish conspiracy for islamists around the world. The filmmaker provides an “american view” of the terror attack, our sentiments are hurt, and so would run the argument. All this is off-course guesswork. But anything can happen in todays India.

  4. RS,

    I don’t think it is a matter of faith at all. The outfit that is stridently agitating against the movie, the Catholic Secular Forum, is simply seeking political weight. Just like its counterparts.

  5. first the defence minister saw RDB for free and now the minister for information and broadcasting is doing the same. very bad precedent indeed.

  6. CSF and political weight? Just how many seats do Christian areas in India have in the LS? I think we can count them on our fingers! Maybe the present the govt emboldens them to protest.

  7. The Indian government is simply passing the buck to the Catholic groups. By letting the Catholic Church essentially make the decision, the Indian government can wash its hands of the whole thing. It is act of cowardice, pure and simple.

  8. Why is this surprising anyone? Isn’t this how Congress I works? There is plenty of precedent to this – banning Rusdie from the country because some Mullahs though his fictional book was offensive without reading the book; creating separate laws for a section of people. Now the fictional movie is offensive although people who saw it thought it was pretty boring movie – this is actually small change.

    Imagine if some silly Hindu group wanted to stop Hinduism being portrayed as evil in high school textbooks. Suddenly they become right wing saffron bridges and face of intolerance and hatred and, of course, anti-secular.

    I don’t think we can claim to be free, secular, and democratic country if a small interest group can dictate what the rest do in their lives.

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  10. WHY DO U CARE ABT WHAT other countries think……damn…cmon live for urself….why do we care if we are laughingstock…..still trying to please others are we…i dont have a problem with the post…i have a problem with ur attitude….get out of the bootlicking attitude

  11. Nandya,

    It is important not to be presuming things when you attack ‘attitudes’. And it doesn’t hurt to be polite.

    That “bootlicking attitude” you saw may be a figment of your own complexes. For I think we’re become a laughingstock in our own eyes.

    And since you brought it up, to be sensitive to how the world perceives you is important in a whole lot of ways — from economic growth to diplomacy. If you can’t see the difference between sensitivity to international perceptions and bootlicking, I guess there is a problem. But that’s for you to solve.

  12. Nitin,

    By that measure, the government should ban the Constitution of India too. After all, it talks about being a “secular democracy” and respect for all religions etc which are against the sentiments of certain religions ;D



  13. Nandya,

    i do care about what the rest of the world thinks. the UPA is playing with india’s honour and projecting us as a “Banana Republic” to the world.

    and it won’t hurt u if u r little polite on a online forum. remember there are real human beings here and not just Online identities.

  14. I agree, Apollo.
    Nothing wrong with [finally] caring about how others see us.
    Hey, I will take anything that inspires us.

    And, Nandya, Even if you don’t care, it wouldn’t hurt to be a bit polite.

  15. Personally its stupid to get riled up about fiction. However, speaking of Das Munshi, he destroyed Indian Football as the head of the Indian Football Association, i doubt he’ll do any worse with cable or movies.

  16. Personally, I think the I&B minister is making a mockery of the system. And we need to get our voices across to him. The censor board is in place to rate a film. Who gave him the rights to have a private screening and decide whether we get to see the film or not? This patronising attitude of our ministers must be severely criticised. If you do not like the film, in a democratic country like ours, you are permitted to shout from the roof of your house and let others know your opinion. But to force your opinion and judgement on free grown-up adults is completely unacceptable.

    Let us decide for ourselves whether the film merits our attention.

  17. Nitin… that was a good read but a sad one at that.

    But think… It would not be long before pirated copies, DVD rips, cam prints etc will be everywhere. People who have never thought about seeing the movie, would now want to see it. A pirated CD costs less (IF you buy one) than a movie ticket, dont you think?

    Ok, now for 1 minute, try not to think of a monkey scratching its back.
    This issue is just the same. Trying to decide what people should watch, only makes them more curious.

  18. Its about whose shoes do we fill. When Hillary Clinton, “cracked” a joke about Mahatma Gandhi running a Gas Station in US, Indians (who form a negligble portion of US population) were offended. Dint’ we ask for a apology? and din’t we get it? Now in this situation where not us but some one else is in the receiving end, we think that makes “US” look bad in the eye’s of the world? Yes, may be the handling of this situation by our minister, is not the right way to go about. But don’t you think as diverse as our nation is, should’nt we be considerate how a situation affects other’s feelings?

  19. The catholic secular forum is just one of those needle sized catholic organistaions.Frankly i had no idea such an org had ever existed until the reccent da vinci code debate,however it is sad to see the cbci in the party.

  20. Nitin,

    Isn’t Catholic Secular Forum a contradiction in terms ?
    Ofcourse if we interpret secularism from actions of Indian state then existence of such pressure groups make perfect sense.


    But did Indians in US asked to ban Hillary Clinton


  21. Gaurav,
    I had noted in my post that “may be it is not the right way to go about the issue”. My response was for not offending people. Beleive it or not, the world that we live in, is “Banana Republic” and so is India.

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