Quick March of State and Vigilante Censorship

2015 will go down in history as the year institutional sanction for censorship quick-marched along with vigilante censorship on the streets. Step for step, an increasingly saffronised censorship has permeated the world of the arts, theatre, films, book publishing, educational curriculum and has claimed the lives of writers, disrupted film and theatre screenings, pulped books and mandated the use of text- books that distort history.

The dastardly killing of 82-year old CPI leader Govind Pansare in Kolhapur on February 20, 2015 and 77-year old Kannada writer Professor MM Kalburghi in Dharwad on August 30, 2015 was a chilling indication of the lengths fundamentalist groups will go to plan these assassinations. These eminent rationalists have been writing and speaking out over the saffronisation of society and the killings sought to silence them.

Ironically, the very lumpenisation of these saffron brigades that Dabholkar and Kalburgi spoke out against claimed the life of an ordinary farm-worker, Mohammed Akhlaq, who was brutally lynched in Dadri in Uttar Pradesh on September 28, 2015 by villagers and neighbours over the suspicion that he had beef in his fridge. Instigated by rumours spread by so-called religious leaders, the villagers fell prey to incitement by leaders of a number of saffron organisations – called the Rashtravadi Pratap Sena, the Samadhan Sena and the Ram Sena – that had sprung up in the village, according to the report of a fact-finding committee of academics and civil society members.

Apart from these killings, there are numerous manifestations of saffron censorship, forced by political parties and vigilante groups who made full use of institutional support to assert their brand of religio-cultural nationalism and morality. Here are some instances:

  • Tamil writer Perumal Murugan announced his ‘death’ as a writer on his Facebook page, a day after being forced to sign an apology and enter into an agreement with caste and Hindu groups in the presence of the District Revenue Officer (DRO) V R Subbulaxmi on January 13 that he would not write anything that offended them![1] Since December 2014, the Hindu Munnani, BJP and RSS leaders joined with caste groups to hound him. [2]
  • The Brahman Ekta Seva Samstha filed a police complaint against comedy group All India Bakchod for a roast which they said was vulgar and denigrated Hindu values.[3]
  • Mathrubhumi newspaper’s literary critic M M Basheer was forced to terminate his series on the Ramayana after Hindu groups called the newspaper office to complain about a Muslim writing on the Ramayana! [4]
  • The Shiv Sena forced the cancellation of performances by Pakistani ghazal singer Ghulam Ali in Mumbai[5] and Pakistani sufi group Mekaal Hasan Band in Ahmedabad[6] and blackened the face of Observer Research Foundation director Sudheendra Kulkarni for organizing the launch of a book by former Pakistani foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri in Mumbai.[7]
  • Tamil writer ‘Puliyur’ Murugesan was beaten up by caste based Hindu groups for his short stories that allegedly showed women in a bad light.[8]
  • FTII students went on a 139-day strike to protest the saffronisation of the institution’s governing council by the appointment of persons who had little or no knowledge of cinema but who were close to the ruling BJP. Their protest fell on deaf ears.[9]
  • CBFC chairperson Leela Samson resigned to protest political interference[10] and was quickly replaced by Hindi film-maker Pahlaj Nihalani.[11] The latter immediately decided to ban swear words, sexually explicit scenes and drag his feet on the award of a certificate for the documentary ‘En Dino Muzaffarnagar’ by the late Shubradeep Chakravorty and Meera Chaudhary. [12]
  • Hindi writer Uday Prakash and Nayantara Sehgal returned their Sahitya Akademi awards to protest the killing of MM Kalburghi and the Dadri lynching, sparking off a major spontaneous movement of more than 70 writers, film-makers and artists who returned their awards in protest. [13]
  • Right-wing activists threatened performers of ‘tiatr’, the Goan satire theatre form[14]

And how did this government respond to the concerns of the writers and members of the film fraternity?

By debunking or belittling them. While Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said the writers who returned the awards were a ‘manufactured revolt’[15], the clamour over his silence on the Dadri lynching forced Prime Minister Narendra Modi to say that Hindus and Muslims must fight poverty, not one another.
What is clear is the sense of entitlement that the Hindutva groups have got from a government that is fraternal, that either silently looks on or makes these incredible and unconvincing statements to cover up its lapses.
The censorship has only continued the pattern set in 2014. Take a quick look:

  • Penguin India was forced to sign an agreement with Hindutva organization Shiksha Bachao Andolan to withdraw and pulp all remaining copies of Wendy Doniger’s book ‘The Hindus: an alternative history’.[16]
  • Members of Hindutva groups targeted organisers of the VIBGYOR film festival for the screening of documentary film ‘Ocean of Tears’[17]
  • Orient Blackswan decided to withdraw 'Communalism and Sexual Violence: Ahmedabad since 1969' by Dr Megha Kumar.[18]
  • The Globus theatre in Mumbai refused to screen the documentary 'The Gujarat Promise' for fear of a BJP backlash[19]
  •  Hindu group demanded a ban on the film Ragini MMS 2 and the deportation of porn star Sunny Leone[20]
  •  There were attempts to stall Rang Rasiya, the film on Raja Ravi Varma[21]
  •  The Shiv Sena in Mumbai forced a ban on the performance of Pakistani artists in a concert in Mumbai[22]
  •  ABVP groups tried to stop a poetry and music perfomance by Dalit group Kabir Kala Manch in Bangalore[23]
  • The VHP halted the staging of a play in Chandigarh[24]
  •  The Kalaghoda festival in Mumbai stopped the staging of a play ‘Ali J’ after Hindu groups call it 'anti-national', police advised organisers of the Evam theatre group not to stage the play in Chennai[25]
  • The Hindu Janjagurti Samiti demanded that MTV stop the show Splitsvilla.[26]

Of course, the Hindutva groups aren’t the only ones to adopt unconstitutional and illegal methods to enforce their diktats. A fringe Christian group, Catholic Secular Forum, decided to protest the staging of a play ‘Agnes of God’, in Mumbai, because it was allegedly anti-catholic. But the play was staged amidst police protection.[27]

And the protests and complaints by sections of Urdu media and cultural groups against the Urdu editor Shirin Dalvi for making use of a cover of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo is another example of offence-taking by Muslim groups.[28]
Last year, in Nagaland, the Ao Senden, the apex body of the Ao tribe in Nagaland, used social boycott as a weapon against Naga journalist Monalisa Changkija, author of ‘Cogitating for a better deal’. Like the majoritarian Hindutva groups, these social groups assert their own brand of majoritarian beliefs and sentiments, with violence if necessary.[29]

Free speech is seriously in peril when those who speak or sing of the dark times are attacked and silenced.

(Geeta Seshu is a senior journalist and Consulting Editor of the mediawatchsite The Hoot. She has been coordinating The Hoot’s free speech project since 2010)


[1] Tamil author Perumal Murugan announces his ‘death’ on Facebook over lack of freedom of speech http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/forced-to-withdraw-novel-tamil-author-announces-his-death/
[3] Thanks morons for the FIR, now hope AIB is dragged to the court, but not to jailhttp://www.opindia.com/2015/02/thanks-morons-for-the-fir-now-hope-aib-is-dragged-to-the-court-but-not-to-jail/
[4]   Hindutva voices force Kerala scholar to stop Ramayana column in newspaper http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/hindu-group-forces-muslim-writer-to-stop-ramayana-column/
[6]  Sequel Music: A La Ghulam Ali, Shiv Sena Forces Pakistani Band To Cancel Gujarat Show http://www.huffingtonpost.in/2015/10/13/mekaal-hasan-band_n_8283198.html
[7] Shiv Sena smears Sudheendra Kulkarni's face with black ink for organising ex-Pak minister's book launch http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/kasuri-book-launch-shiv-sainiks-smear-black-paint-on-sudheendra-kulkarnis-face/1/496352.html
[13] Hindi writer Uday Prakash returns Akademi award over Kalburgi killing  http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Hindi-writer-Uday-Prakash-returns-Akademi-award-over-Kalburgi-killing/articleshow/48930730.cms
Dadri lynching: Nayantara Sahgal, Ashok Vajpeyi question PM Modi’s ‘silence’, give back Sahitya Akademi  http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/nayantara-sahgal-returns-sahitya-akademi-award-questions-pm-modis-silence-on-reign-of-terror/
[14] Goa: BJP govt under fire for trying to censor century-old Konkani theatre http://www.firstpost.com/politics/goa-bjp-govt-fire-trying-censor-century-old-konkani-theatre-2106495.html
[15] Arun Jaitley in Facebook post: Writers returning awards a ‘manufactured revolt’ www.indianexpress.com/article/india/india-news-india/writers-returning-awards-a-manufactured-revolt-arun-jaitley/
[16] Penguin India withdrawn copies of Wendy Doniger’s controversial book The Hindus http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2014-02-12/news/47269928_1_publishers-controversial-book-penguin-india
[17] Attack on film festival in Kerala's cultural capital shows rising Hindutva presence in liberal state http://scroll.in/article/657425/attack-on-film-festival-in-keralas-cultural-capital-shows-rising-hindutva-presence-in-liberal-state
[18]Revise your book, Orient Blackswan tells Megha Kumar  http://www.thehindu.com/news/national/revise-your-book-orient-blackswan-tells-megha-kumar/article6123845.ece
[19] Mumbai theatre Globus refuses to screen 'The Gujarat Promise' for fear of BJP backlash http://www.dnaindia.com/entertainment/report-mumbai-theatre-globus-refuses-to-screen-the-gujarat-promise-for-fear-of-bjp-backlash-1958769
[20]Hindu Janjagruti Samiti demands ban on 'Ragini MMS 2', threatens stir http://www.dnaindia.com/india/report-hindu-janjagruti-samiti-demands-ban-on-ragini-mms-2-threatens-stir-1972150
[21] Based on the life of Raja Ravi Varma, Ketan Mehta's Rang Rasiya gets a legal notice http://www.hindustantimes.com/bollywood/based-on-the-life-of-raja-ravi-varma-ketan-mehta-s-rang-rasiya-gets-a-legal-notice/story-IR4CFywGDeWevNnZDVnUGI.html
[22] Shame Mumbai! Cops force Pakistani band to call off concert http://www.firstpost.com/india/shame-mumbai-cops-force-pakistani-band-call-concert-1830849.html
[23] Kabir Kala Manch, Bangalore Police and Free Speech http://www.mainstreamweekly.net/article5384.html
[24] Religious groups, artistes lock horns over ‘Dharamraj.com’  Tribune News Servicehttp://www.tribuneindia.com/2014/20140724/cth1.htm
[25] Kalaghoda axes play after Hindu groups call it 'anti-national'; producers move it to YouTube  http://www.dnaindia.com/mumbai/report-kalaghoda-axes-play-after-hindu-groups-call-it-anti-national-producers-move-it-to-youtube-1959801
[27] ‘Agnes of God’: Play facing ban threat opens to cheers, applause in Mumbai http://indianexpress.com/article/india/india-others/agnes-of-god-play-facing-ban-threat-opens-to-cheers-applause-in-mumbai/
[28] Six months since she published Charlie Hebdo cover, Urdu editor struggles for work and money http://scroll.in/article/739406/six-months-since-she-published-charlie-hebdo-cover-urdu-editor-struggles-for-work-and-money
[29]Free speech under attack from violence and defamation suits http://www.thehoot.org/story_popup/free-speech-under-attack-from-violence-and-defamation-suits-7957



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