To Ban Or Not To Ban

Written for Tehelka

Leslee-Udwin-2

Leslee Udwin is attacked as someone who doesn’t feel the need to counter the statements of these men and instead adds tear jerking fade outs and voice overs to her film.

I wonder which one you would care about more: A clever quote on censorship or a fun fact about ostriches. Well, let me share both. I’m sure you like to have variety. Did you know that the Ostrich’s eyes are bigger than its brain? I swear. And also did you know that, “Censorship reflects a society’s lack of confidence in itself.”? At least that’s what Potter Stewart said.

A bunch of other fellows said a bunch of other interesting things about Censorship. Such as – Laurie Halse Anderson: Censorship is the child of fear and the father of ignorance, Henry Louis Gates: Censorship is to art as lynching is to justice and George Bernard Shaw: The first condition of progress is the removal of censorship. But I sense that our country doesn’t much care about quotes. We are more the Ostrich kinds.

This week Anushka Sharma’s production debut, NH10 releases. From the trailer and from what Wikipedia tells me, it’s a film about a couple on a vacation, witnessing and objecting the forceful abduction of a woman without calculating the dangers that lie ahead. A very similar plot angle was used in the recently released Tevar as well, where the Meerut boy Pintu knocks a political goon out cold to save a girl from his grips.

Yet, while Tevar – a masala comedy about the same theme – got away with an UA certificate from the censor board, NH10 now has the stigma of an ‘A’ stamp even after the film underwent 9 cuts as a compromise. Maybe the censor board feels that showcasing violence against women frivolously is something the Indian audience is more comfortable with. I’m not sure but that’s the message they are sending out. Item songs, ridiculous lyrics, bizarre sex comedies are all okay. But woman with an iron rod, screaming abuses and fighting for her life – Great heavens!

Recently, I read about Petra Collins – The Canadian photographer whose Instagram account was deleted because she posted a picture of herself waist down, wearing a bikini bottom and sporting a bikini line. In the article Censorship and the Female Body, she writes, “I did nothing that violated the terms of use. No nudity, violence, pornography, unlawful, hateful, or infringing imagery. What I did have was an image of MY body that didn’t meet society’s standard of “femininity”.”

She later concluded saying, “To those who reported me, to those who are disgusted by my body, to those who commented “horrible” or “disgusting” on an image of ME, I want you to thoughtfully dissect your own reaction to these things, please think about WHY you felt this way, WHY this image was so shocking, WHY you have no tolerance for it. Hopefully you will come to understand that it might not be you thinking these things but society telling you how to think.”

Petra caught my fancy. She even triggered the memory of all those small irksome beeps all over television these days. Like when the words menstruation, breasts, vagina and nipple are replaced with a set of *** or ridiculous synonyms like chest, making me relive that atrocious sentiment that women are dirty and their bodies must never be spoken about.

One day I sat my mother down to show her Freida Kahlo’s paintings. After wincing and grimacing through a couple of them, she patted me on the head and told me that I shouldn’t focus on the bad things of life so much, before she went away screaming at the cats. One such ‘bad-things-of-life’ documentary is Leslee Udwin’s India’s Daughter and our government just patted us on the head by banning it.

The director records the rapist Mukesh Singh saying, “When being raped, she shouldn’t fight back. She should just be silent and allow the rape. Then they’d have dropped her off after ‘doing her’, and only hit the boy.” He later adds, “A girl is far more responsible for rape than a boy … A decent girl won’t roam around at nine o’clock at night … Housework and housekeeping is for girls, not roaming in discos and bars at night doing wrong things, wearing wrong clothes.”

Of course everyone knows rapists don’t exist isolated in our society and you will quite often be surprised with the shocking things ‘learned’ and ‘reputed’ professionals say. Such as defense lawyer A. P. Singh. Sir wishes to set his daughter and sister ablaze in his farmhouse and also apparently has a family who would be interested in the voyeuristic pleasure such an event might generate.

I read quite a few articles on the internet published by reputed news portals. Some said it was shocking how the film never ‘blinks’ in protest of these infuriating comments. Leslee Udwin is attacked as someone who doesn’t feel the need to counter the statements of these men and instead adds tear jerking fade outs and voice overs to her film.

I wonder why we always forget to observe what’s right before our eyes instead of asking for other’s opinions. Banning India’s Daughter because the filmmaker chooses to withhold her personal views and open up a screen space which observes and listens to what rapists and their defenders have to say, makes me wonder if such a move will also melt away the heinous sentiments of the Indian society.

Even though one might say that the west still can’t stop obsessing about rescuing the orient, but it’s hard to altogether brush aside what the auteur has to say in her defense in an interview with Thomsom Reuters Foundation, “My whole purpose was to give a gift of gratitude to India, to actually praise India, to single India out as a country that was exemplary in its response to this rape, as a country where one could actually see change beginning.”

It’s noteworthy how each time a story tries to narrate anything worthwhile about women, censorship snaps its scissors faster. Is that why Bandit Queen is never aired on TV but Gabbar Singh is a hit? And why vaginal yeast infection is never spoken about but vaginal fairness cream ads are airing so proudly?

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