Killers of creativity #Censorsip #FOE


Aranyani Bhargav, The Hindu

Mallika Sarabhai Photo:Thulasi Kakkat

Mallika Sarabhai Photo:Thulasi Kakkat

Dance appears to have escaped censorship, but a very subtle form of censorship disguises itself as a performance licence

Despite what romantics might say, it is not easy to be creative. Creativity is not simply something some people are born with and some aren’t. Creativity is cultivated over many years of training, learning, and experiencing. In other words, it is not an easy task to create something good and meaningful even in the best of circumstances. However, the best of circumstances don’t always present themselves at opportune or frequent moments in time. In fact, many an artist will tell you that the revelations regarding a creative piece of work came at a decidedly inopportune or inconvenient moment!

Moreover, there are certain factors in the art world that make the creation of dance (and indeed other forms of art) even more difficult. One is undoubtedly the lack of inspiration. Inspiration can be thwarted by internal factors such as emotional distress or laziness to actually do the hard work that creativity requires, or to go out there and get exposed to other people’s work – in order to draw inspiration from it. Inspiration can equally be diminished by external factors such as the apparent celebration of mediocrity, which may cause disheartening and discouragement; a lack of guidance in the form of a mentor, teacher or colleagues; and the economic factor – which in many ways limits creativity.

Let me explain this further. Money, I think, is the second factor worth mentioning that kills creativity. Of course, this is not unconditionally true. An art-funding body that approves funding for a choreographer’s work can be of immeasurable help to the choreographer because it helps him or her to be able to focus only on creating the work, rather than searching for funding. But there is a flipside to this as well. Work that is commissioned often has restrictions imposed on it by the organization that commissions it. Funds are released on the condition that content, concept, vocabulary and so on – will be determined and restricted – not by the choreographer, but by the person or organization funding the work. In that sense, it does kill creativity.

Restrictions are imposed in other ways too, and this particular one seems obvious as a killer of creativity – censorship. Of course, like all of the above factors, this one is also not an absolute evil. Censorship exists in an ideal world for good and important reasons. But sometimes, it does contribute to the bloodless murder of creative potential.

Censorship doesn’t happen in the world of dance very publicly as it does in some other spheres of art – Kamal Haasan’s ‘Vishwaroopam’ and Salman Rushdie’s ‘Satanic Verses’ are quite openly censored by society. Dance appears to have escaped that censorship but perhaps that is only the case because the world of dance is less in the public eye than Haasan or Rushdie. Censorship does occasionally threaten to kill creativity amongst dancers. Mallika Sarabhai, a dancer and activist in Gujarat, has faced ‘censorship’ of sorts for having viewpoints that didn’t fit well with people in power. On a more ‘aam aadmi’ level, the police now imposes restrictions on dancers who wish to perform publicly. Of course, the banning of live music (which had a profoundly devastating impact on local musicians and bands) in Bangalore as well as the banning of dancing in pubs has caught quite a lot of media attention a few years ago. But even for ‘serious performers of dance’ in India, a very subtle form of censorship disguises itself as a ‘performance licence’. Amongst several things that the performer has to agree not to do, the vague statements could potentially restrict the freedom of any kind of creative expression – the performance must not have “any impropriety of language”, “indecency of dress, dance, movement or gesture”, or “anything likely to excite feelings of sedition or political discontent”. The basis on which impropriety or indecency, or in fact, the expression of political discontent is to be measured is not mentioned anywhere, potentially limiting the creative freedom of a dancer to speak, dance, or dress a certain way.

So, when the best of circumstances do not present themselves to a creative person, these killers of creativity make the creation of art an even more difficult task than it was to begin with.

 

Open letter to ipetitions.com on Censorship


Dear Alex

 I am  a human rights  activist and a  social media expert who  very avidly uses the potent weapon  of online petitions to strengthen the offline campaigns on various human rights violations. I have used almost all petition sites including yours.
Your site  is featuring  a very controversial petitions , which blow horns on the top on censorship “Remove ban against ‘The Satanic Verses’, which states that  The Satanic Verses’ is an epitome of free speech. Banning the book is as good as banning one’s right to have an opinion in the world’s largest democracy. For a long time, to appease vote banks, successive governements have been trying to suppress the right to speech and opinion by banning several books and pieces of art created by men of high intellectuality. Among these, the most famous and controversial one has been ‘The Satanic Verses’. Banning the book in the 20th century, the Indian government committed a huge blunder as it paved the way for several subsequent bans. It is high time we remove the ban and welcome Sir Rushdie amidst us. Once this petition is signed by at least 10,000 people, it will be sent to the Prime Ministers Office and the Rashtrapathi Bhavan. No efforts will be spared to unban this magnificient piece of prose. The government should realise that every piece of literature can entertain people and at the same time offend them. Spread the word!
Now, I want to ask you how can blow the horn against ban on satanic verses when you have banned a petition on your site “ For Release of   Waqar “, it reeks of  hypocrisy, you  washed your hands  off the petition  by immediately disabling it with a small message which states-
This petition is going offline in 48 hours.
 Hello, Unfortunately, our legal department has encountered some legal issues regarding your petition (http://www.ipetitions.com/ petition/release-waqar-ahmad/). We are forced to remove your petition from our site, otherwise we are subject to legal proceedings. The petition will be disabled for at least 48 hours prior to removal, but you will have access to its database during that period. We apologize once again. Thank you for your understanding. -Alex iPetitions Support-
 I would really like to know “ What  legal proceedings “ will be  initiated against you, if you had the free waqar petition  ?  W ho threatened you ? and why  you pulled out the  petition from the website, REALLY
 Either  you  protect   human   rights  fully, or please don’t  create a façade  in the name of  e activism. This is highly unexpected of an  e petition website ,which says it stands for the same values that our petition demanded, Justice and Freedom for all.
 Expecting a  reply  to my queries
Warm Regards
 Adv Kamayani Bali Mahabal
@ kracktivist

 

ps- this letter has been sent to support@ipetitions.com also

‘Our policy is to ban first and hear later’


A SENIORSupreme Court advocate, Rajeev Dhavan has been one of the most trenchant critics of censorship. His book Publish and Be Damned: Censorship and Intolerance in India examines the relationship between political and social censorship. On a winter evening in his South Delhi residence, Dhavan, 65, tells Shonali Ghosal why the liberal space can be easily throttled in India.

Are the seven heads under Article 19(2) too open to interpretation by the government to curb freedom of expression (FoE)?
The seven heads of reasonable restriction in Article 19(2) are interpreted mechanically. If it falls into that slot (defamation), the court will say (it’s a) reasonable restraint. Nobody examines defamation and contempt of law as reasonable restraints. Some of these restraints are huge. For example, public order, decency, morality can mean anything; friendly relations with foreign states is also ambiguous. Free speech would be suffocated. Although the Supreme Court has been strong in protecting FoE as in the case of Price and Page Act, 1962 and Bennett and Coleman on advertisements (1972), nevertheless this wooliness in Article 19(2) is over-extended not just by courts but also by civil society. We find a Shiv Sena interpretation, an RSS interpretation, a CM Modi interpretation and, regrettably, a CPM interpretation when it interfered with Taslima Nasrin’s book.
Can there be a realistic litmus test to determine what is or isn’t a reasonable restriction?
No, because all the categories are fungible. One must realise that the right is fundamental and not the restriction. This is why the government and people censoring have to say “is this the least invasive way we can interfere with each other’s speech?” This is a message to civil society that the Constitution is a principled document. Free speech can never be answered with violence. If those concerned with Salman Rushdie have something against The Satanic Verses, which I personally think is a brilliant interpretation, it should be words against words.

But shouldn’t an artist be allowed to contest another person’s right to be offended?
Everyone has a right to contest what anyone says but what one does not know is how, where and in what way will the contestation take place. The Constitution is abused in ways where the State, at times, has taken a lackadaisical approach to free speech. The Satanic Verses was banned under the Custom’s Act, it was never given a chance to be heard. The policy is to ban first and hear later.

Are we killing the liberal space in India by arming and encouraging all objectionists alike?
The so-called liberal space where people talk and reason with each other is very easily throttled. Take the Khushwant Singh versus Maneka Gandhi case, the HC order stood for years until Sanjay Kaul reversed it. Getting injunction from the court on whatever ground is easy like in the cases of Khushboo and MF Husain where criminal complaints have been filed. Even Justice AM Ahmadi refused to aggregate all cases in one court. The process is the punishment — civil or criminal. Just going through the process of arrest, of bail, of being banned is enough to unsettle anyone.

With ‘offended individuals’ filing cases, artists have to keep attending to cases across the country. While protecting the right to object, isn’t the law neglecting the artist?
The unfortunate law is that a case can be filed wherever the offending exercise of free speech reaches. Former editors tell me that people filed cases in Assam just to make it inconvenient. One recent development that is worrying is that Mumbai has become the defamation capital. The reason: outside Maharashtra, the fees you have to pay is ad valorem fee (in proportion to the amount claimed). In Mumbai, the fee levels out so that you can claim huge amounts on low fee as was witnessed in the Justice PB Sawant case where the court ordered 100 crore damages. You don’t have to pay through your nose by way of fees. In Maharashtra, defamation has become a game to intimidate and harass. The corporates do very well on this.

‘The process is the punishment — just going through arrest, bail or being banned can unsettle anyone’

Should there be a distinction between content one can avoid (a book, a television show) and that you can’t (billboards) when citing disrespect or indecency?
Freedom of speech is subject to time and place. If you’re in a crowd and you say something to someone, that’s immediate. You have the option to read or not read a magazine. Many countries mark sections of magazine stores if they stock adult content. But all this content is available on the net. There are ways, at least on TV to restrain channels. Internet access is another thing altogether but you don’t break a walnut with a sledgehammer as Mr Sibal wants to do. These things require debate rather than the knee-jerk reactions of Kapil Sibal and Markandey Katju.

Shouldn’t we define the caveat about incitement of violence much more narrowly?
Categories on which reasonable restrictions can be made have to be reasonably broad but require Constitutional interpretation to ensure that you don’t ban plays like Tamas or a film like Ore Oru Gramathile. The court has been good in the late ’80s and early ’90s, which is evident from cases like The Bandit Queen where the Delhi High Court took a very aggressive view to cut out portions, which would’ve been removed. The Supreme Court reversed the order as it should have. Intolerance to free speech is on the increase and we don’t know how to deal with it.

Shonali Ghosal is a Correspondent with Tehelka.
shonali@tehelka.com

Now, ‘Flashread’ to rescue freedom of speech


//
Mail Today, New Delhi
From Ramanujan‘s essay to Hussain’s paintings, Rushdie’s writings to Facebook musings, the issue of cultural censorship seems to be spreading like a disease in this country. But before it goes viral, activists have decided to step up efforts to retain India‘s democratic fabric.

Salman Rushdie
Salman Rushdie‘s ‘The Satanic Verses‘ is banned for alleged blasphemy against Islam.

In one such attempt that bears a resemblance to the “flashmob”, where a group of people shake their legs in a choreographed move, free speech advocates have now joined hands to raise their voice against increasing intolerance in the country.

Termed “flashread”, groups in cities across the country met in public places and read out from works by controversial authors on Valentine’s Day, which has itself become a flashpoint of cultural censorship.

“What we have to do is keep embarrassing the state so that we can ask them; do we want India to turn into some of those countries where authors are jailed?” Salil Tripathi, an author, asked. “The state needs to be reminded that it has to protect the vulnerable. And who is the vulnerable here – the painter who paints what he wants to… the author who has something to say!”

A.K. Ramanujan
A.K. Ramanujan‘s essay on Ramayan was banned by the Delhi University.

At Delhi’s Lodi Gardens, a group of about 15 people gathered and began reading out extracts from the works of A.K. Ramanujan , Rohinton Mistry, Jeet Thayil as well as Salman Rushdie , whose intended appearance at the Jaipur Literature Festival created quite a storm.

“What we’re doing is showing them that there’s a civil way to make ourselves heard,” Mohit, a financial services consultant who read at the gathering, said. “We can easily form a mob and try to go after the ones who want to silence us. But the point is we have to behave in way you can appreciate. We have got to show that there’s a better way than just being loud.”

The movement was organised by Nilanjana Roy, a literary critic, editor and writer who is also heading an effort to lift the ban on Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses.

Roy put the idea down on her blog on February 10 and it quickly spread on social networking sites, inspiring similar events in Mumbai, Bangalore and other cities – with groups using Twitter to keep each other informed about the timing and location.

The movement also allowed for impromptu changes – with one group in the Capital deciding to carry out a “flashread” at Janpath after office-goers were unable to make it to Lodi Gardens.

After the group at Lodi Gardens failed to attract much attention, they decided to move into Khan Market where a spontaneous reading in front of a bookshop invited interests and questions from passersby.

“More and more people seem to be afraid to say what they want; afraid to express themselves, and that is obviously a problem,” Mohit said. “If you can’t speak, you can’t think. For us the role model is right here (in India)… As a state and a country we are in danger of forgetting that.”

India: How to silence a nation


07 Feb 2012

The Satanic Verses

Image via Wikipedia

Legal proceedings have been filed against four authors that read aloud from Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic verses. Salil Tripathi explains how outdated Colonial-era legislation is being used to curtail free expression.

The saga refuses to end.

The Jaipur story has now taken a new turn, on Monday (6 February) two courts in the city began legal proceedings after complaints were filed by among others, members of an organisation that campaigned against Salman Rushdie’s participation in the Jaipur Literature Festival. They allege that the festival organisers and four authors who read from Rushdie’s novel, The Satanic Verses, hurt the religious sentiments of Muslims.

The four authors — Amitava Kumar, Hari Kunzru, Ruchir Joshi, and Jeet Thayil — read from the novel to express solidarity with the absent Rushdie, and as a mark of protest. Rushdie did not go to Jaipur after he received plausible information that security forces had evidence of death threats against him. Now the festival’s organisers are also being charged under provisions of India’s criminal laws, which date back to the colonial era.

The complainants main contention is that the authors and the festival organisers conspired “to promote enmity on grounds of religion.” One magistrate has recorded the complaint to decide if the case has any merit before it is sent to the police to register a First Information Report. That case will now be heard on 8 March. Another magistrate will record a complainant’s statement today. When such complaints are filed, the court can either ask the police to register a report and launch an investigation, or examine the complaint on its own, before deciding if the matter deserves to be sent to the police for further action. The courts have decided to examine the matter first, before sending it to the police.

The relevant sections under the Indian law are:

295-A (which deals with deliberate and malicious act intended to outrage religious feelings)

298 (uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings),

153-A (promoting enmity between groups on religious grounds),

153-B (imputations prejudicial to national integration)

120-B (criminal conspiracy).

Preserving communal harmony is a serious matter in India. These laws empower the state to prosecute anyone whose intends to and acts in a way that outrages religious feelings or promotes “enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language,” and the all-important, all-inclusive “etc.”

Now think again about what happened in Jaipur: the four authors read extracts from The Satanic Verses, whose import is banned in India. Note, its import is banned in India; lawyers have pointed out that the government did not ban its printing or publishing — rather, Penguin, which had the rights to publish it in India, chose not to do so after the import ban was imposed, and its consulting editor recommended that it would be unwise to publish the novel. Leading Indian lawyers say that bane does not extend to reading the novel, or reading from it. In fact, in the years after the ban, several lawyers and writers read from it in public, as a mark of protest. They weren’t charged at any time. At the Jaipur Festival, parliamentarian Shashi Tharoor, author and former diplomat, said he has read from, or cited the novel, without any problem.

And yet, now the four authors and the festival’s organisers — William Dalrymple, Namita Gokhale, and Sanjoy Roy — face the prospect of being charged under colonial-era laws. Such a prosecution mocks India’s fine judicial traditions and runs counter to its constitutional guarantees of free speech (which are, it must be said, limited). It means if you say anything that someone considers controversial or offensive, then either that individual or the state can begin proceedings that could lead to prosecution. This isn’t a theoretical proposition, nor is this the first such complaint. Many film-makers, authors, and artists have been scarred by threats of such prosecutions. Many have sued for peace by dropping contentious material before publication; some have been prosecuted. Higher courts have usually dismissed the charges, but not before a long process that’s costly and stressful. (There is also the other threat of vigilantes doling out justice in the form of ransacked galleries or theatres, or attacks on artists, with the police doing little to stop such violence). This is preposterous — but such is the state of affairs.

Neither the authors nor the festival organisers incited any community, nor did they intend to insult any religious group. The festival organisers have said they were not aware that the authors intended to protest. After the four read from the novel, the organisers even issued a statement saying the authors had acted on their own. But none of that seems to matter to the complainants.

The charge is even more confusing since there has been no violence. Nobody went on a rampage; there was no riot. The four had never intended to incite anybody, and nobody got incited. However, some Muslim fundamentalist groups had offered rewards to throw shoes at Rushdie, or spit on Rushdie. Others had said that even a video appearance by Rushdie could have repercussions, irrespective of what he might say. Many might regard these statements as threats, but as of now, no police officer has pressed charges against any of those individuals, who were at least implying that matters might get out of hand for which, of course, they would presumably claim no responsibility.

And so it is that the one who claims offence and threatens to take the law in his hands, or suggests others might do so, remains free; the ones who read from a book are being charged under laws meant to prevent violence.

The Indian Penal Code, from which these sections are derived, was drafted in 1860, and much of that law has stayed fossilised, even though India gained Independence in 1947. It is important to remember the circumstances under which that law was drafted. In 1857, many princely states in India rebelled against the rule of the East India Company, and what followed was what India calls the first war of independence, and what Britain remembers as the Sepoy Mutiny. Soldiers of the East India Company rebelled against the company, and united with various princely states in a vain attempt to overpower the colonial rule. The war ended in 1858, with the Indian states surrendering, and soon thereafter, company rule ended, and Queen Victoria became the Empress of India.

There were many reasons for the uprising, but the immediate spark was religious. Indian troops in the East India Company’s army were alarmed by rumours that the new British cartridges were greased with cow or pig fat. Hindu and Muslim soldiers alike were offended, unwilling to handle ammunition contaminated by animal fat which the respective faiths shunned.

Realising the combustible power of religion, the British decided to make maintenance of religious harmony their priority, and to do that, they took advantage of mutual suspicion among the communities. So anyone who disrupted harmony would be prosecuted, and people had the right to complain against anyone who disrupted such harmony, turning the “subjects” into informers. Colonial rulers had good reason to maintain such laws — to keep communities suspicious of one another and divided just short of fighting.

Free India is supposed to be democratic; its adult citizens vote their governments, and they argue with each other in a spirited manner. But these laws, relics of the raj, treat Indians as subjects, not citizens. They allow troublemakers to file spurious complaints under the provisions of these laws and restrict free expression, as had happened to the great painter, the late M.F. Husain, who was driven out of India, and died in exile in London last year. The same provisions are now being used against the novelists and organisers of a festival of literature.

This has gone on too long. Before it gets any worse, India needs adult supervision; it needs to repeal these laws, stop proceedings against the authors and festival organisers, and keep a stern eye on rabble-rousers who cry offence and threaten violence because they don’t like other people reading a book they haven’t read and which they are told they must dislike.

You can dislike a book; nothing is sacred. But if you don’t like a book, Rushdie had said in India in 2010, all you have to do is to shut it.

Instead, they want to shut conversations across the country through intimidation.

Salil Tripathi is a journalist and author and the chair of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee

Organisers wash hands off Amitava Ghosh, Hari Kunzru, others


 This was after Amitava Ghosh, Hari Kunzru, others read out passages from The Satanic Verses.

This press release is being issued on behalf of the organizers of the Jaipur Literature Festival. It has come to their attention that certain delegates acted in a manner during their sessions today which were without the prior knowledge or consent of the organizers. Any views expressed or actions taken by these delegates are in no manner endorsed by the Jaipur Literature Festival. Any comments made by the delegates reflect their personal, individual views and are not endorsed by the Festival or attributable to its organizers or anyone acting on their behalf. The Festival organizers are fully committed to ensuring compliance of all prevailing laws and will continue to offer their fullest cooperation to prevent any legal violation of any kind. Any action by any delegate or anyone else involved with the Festival that in any manner falls foul of the law will not be tolerated and all necessary, consequential action will be taken. Our endeavor has always been to provide a platform to foster an exchange of ideas and the love of literature, strictly within the four corners of the law. We remain committed to this objective.

Demanding a ban on visit of Salman Rushdie to India is outrageous: PUCL


Salman Rushdie

Image via Wikipedia

Press Release

The People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) views it with deep concern that some organizations have demanded ban on entry of Salman Rushdie in the country. The present call is illogical, preposterous and untenable as the writer has visited the country for several times after the Satanic Verses book controversy.

Those who have called for banning his entry must know that Rushdie being person of Indian origin does not need permission from the government – a visa – to visit his home country. To demand an unconstitutional measure to be invoked against some one, one might not agree with is as condemnable as when some lunatic groups would demand that certain book be taken off the shelf or some painting exhibition be not held or that the majortarian way of life should be standard for all in the country.

PUCL believes that the present demand is self defeating and is against the interest of the community in the name of which such demands are made. Above all demands such as these run counter to the values of a democratic society that the India is. Those who are misguiding gullible people are indulging in politics of symbolism based on emotional exploitation of the people thereby damaging our shared constitutional values. PUCL appeals to people to see through such moves and ignore such calls.

 

Sd./- Pushkar Raj General Secretary

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