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- Published 19.08.11
Publicity, even of the negative kind, can make careers. But Prakash Jha can hardly hope for such luck. The Bollywood director, who is known for making films with a conscience, has run into serious losses over his latest offering, Aarakshan. It is alleged that the film, which explores the controversies surrounding caste-based reservations in India, has ended up endorsing derogatory attitudes towards Dalits. Three state governments have banned it, and audiences elsewhere are, understandably, wary of going to film theatres that are heavily guarded by the police and liable to erupt in hooliganism any moment. While it is quite possible that the film does not live up to the expectations of certain sections of its viewers, there are civilized ways of recording such disapproval. Banning a film is not one of them. Such a stance violates the basic freedoms that the Indian Constitution gives to every citizen of the country. It is also irrational to confuse reality with fiction — which is what a film is mostly based on. Such neat correspondences become especially problematic when the subject of the film is as knotty as reservation — where right and wrong, black and white are notoriously conflated.
It is unfortunate that India is yet to earn the title of a mature democracy even 65 years after its Independence. Books, films, paintings and plays continue to be banned by the State at the slightest hint of trouble. In nearly all these cases, as with Mr Jha’s film, an ulterior motive is usually involved in the demand for censorship. For some state governments, rabble-rousing over the depiction of caste relations in a film may be a useful strategy to gain political mileage on the eve of assembly elections. But such deluded notions are going to hold water with only a handful of party loyals and anti-social elements who need but an excuse to disrupt civil society. Rather than promoting social justice, such outbreaks of violence may ultimately prove detrimental to the advances, big and small, that have been made in the arena of caste politics. And what, one wonders, is the meaning of such State paternalism when there is open trading in pirated books and DVDs on every Indian street and the internet has revolutionized the idea of access?