Amartya cannot say 'cow'

Censors strike, balk at Nobel laureate's words

By Arindam Chatterjee in Calcutta
  • Published 12.07.17

Beep 1 ("Gujarat")

Beep 2 ("Hindu India")

Beep 3 ("Cow")

Beep 4 ("Hindutva view of India")

Calcutta, July 11: The Argumentative Indian, a documentary on Amartya Sen by economist Suman Ghosh, will not release in Calcutta this weekend because the filmmaker has refused to follow the Central Board of Film Certification's diktat of beeping out the above words spoken by the Nobel laureate.

After a screening at the CBFC office in Esplanade today, Ghosh was told the documentary could only be released, with a UA certificate, if he agreed to beep out words like "Gujarat", "cow", "Hindutva view of India" and "Hindu India" used in the context of the present political climate in the country.

"The attitude of the censor board just underlines the relevance of the documentary in which Sen highlights the growing intolerance in India. Such scrutiny of any criticism of the government in a democratic country is shocking. There is no way I would agree to beep or mute or change anything that one of the greatest minds of our times has said in the documentary," Ghosh told The Telegraph.

In The Argumentative Indian, shot in two parts in 2002 and 2017, the word "Gujarat" comes up in a lecture Sen delivered at Cornell University: "...Why democracy works so well is that the government is not free to have its own stupidities, and in case of Gujarat its own criminalities, without the Opposition being howled down and booted out...."

Asked by economist Kaushik Basu about the context of his book, The Argumentative Indian, Sen said that it was "really based on my understanding of the country... (and) the country was now being interpreted sometimes as Hindu India and sometimes as other restricted visions of the country...."

As part of the same answer, Sen used the word "cow" once while explaining the need for debate and argument. "...There was a kind of grandness of vision there, and an integrated picture which hangs together in trying to embrace each other, not through chastising people for having mistreated a cow or some other thing, but dealing with people in terms of argument."

Talking about the backlash to the airing of his views on the present state of the nation, Sen said: "Now a lot of people would disagree with my view of India.... Whenever I try to take this rather grand view of India, which is not the banal Hindutva view of India, whenever I make a statement, I know the next morning I will get 800 attacks on social media of four different kinds.... I can see there is an organised attack (by a particular political group).... Now the main thing is not to be deterred by it."

On Monday, a private screening of The Argumentative Indian was held at Nandan III, after which Sen fielded a few questions on intolerance and the shrinking of the democratic space for debate in India. "So many of our democratic rights are being violated but nothing much is happening.... I think we are not responding and that worries me," he had said.

Among those at Nandan for the screening was Harvard history professor Sugata Bose, who features prominently in the documentary. Informed by The Telegraph about The Argumentative Indian running into censor trouble, he said: "It is a preposterous and unacceptable assault on the freedom of expression. The film ought to be given a certificate immediately. It is an academic film primarily where every word has been carefully weighed."

The censor board's reaction, according to Bose, "is at one level puerile" and at another reflects "an atmosphere of unreason" in the country today.

Contacted about their objections, a member of the censor board said: "I cannot comment on this."

Filmmaker Suman Ghosh, who divides his time between teaching economics at Miami and making films in Bengal, is yet to decide on his next course of action.