The grounds offered for banning movies, books, etc., in India are so wide ranging that if these are accepted, all the great books ever written and famous movies ever made will have to be proscribed. For there has been no great philosopher, thinker, or author who cannot be accused of offending some tetchy group or, in the Indian context, “hurting the sentiments” of somebody or the other.
From religious texts to philosophical and literary classics, all of them have portions which would be found unpalatable if the contemporary standards of morality, decency, public order, etc., are applied.
Let’s begin with the beginning. For Plato, slavery was a natural state of affairs, something which never bothered the great philosopher. He wrote, “…nature herself intimates that it is just for the better to have more than the worse, the more powerful than the weaker; and in many ways she shows, among men as well as among animals, and indeed among whole cities and races, that justice consists in the superior ruling over and having more than the inferior.”
His disciple and another great philosopher, Aristotle, justified slavery. According to him, “But is there anyone thus intended by nature to be a slave, and for whom such a condition is expedient and right, or rather is not all slavery a violation of nature? There is no difficulty in answering this question, on grounds both of reason and of fact. For that some should rule and others be ruled is a thing not only necessary, but expedient; from the hour of their birth, some are marked out for subjection, others for rule.”
Now, Plato and Aristotle were among the greatest philosophers of all time. In fact, A.N. Whitehead (1861-1947), the English mathematician and philosopher, went on to say that the safest general characterisation of the European philosophical tradition is that it consists of a series of footnotes to Plato. That may be an exaggeration, but the importance and influence of the Greek duo could scarcely be overemphasised.
Yet, the views of Plato and Aristotle make them good targets for a ban or abridgement of their works.
Then there was the enfant terrible of Western philosophy, Nietzsche. Here are some of his gems: “Thou goest to woman? Do not forget thy whip!” “Man should be educated for war, and woman for the recreation of the warrior; all else is folly.” “Let woman be a plaything.” “Everything about woman has one solution: pregnancy.”
Another great German philosopher, Schopenhauer, whom Nietzsche considered as his teacher, did not make many edifying comments on the fair sex. “It is only a man whose intellect is clouded by his sexual impulse that could give the name of the fair sex to that under-sized, narrow-shouldered, broad-hipped, and short-legged race, for the whole beauty of the sex is bound up with this impulse. Instead of calling them beautiful, there would be more warrant for describing women as the unaesthetic sex. Neither for music, nor for poetry, nor for the fine arts, have they really and truly any sense of susceptibility; it is a mere mockery if they make a pretence of it in order to assist their endeavour to please… They are incapable of taking a purely objective interest in anything… The most distinguished intellects among the whole sex have never managed to produce a single achievement in the fine arts that is really genuine and original; or given to the world any work of permanent value in any sphere,” Schopenhauer wrote.
In India too, great authors have expressed uncharitable views about women. Tulsidas famously said that they, along with others, were fit to be beaten at will.
The list of great authors who have said politically incorrect things about women is long. If we accept that anything that offends some people should be banned or edited, these philosophers and thinkers would face censorship.
It is not just the views expressed by philosophers that would suffer vicious attacks. All classics, Indian as well as Western, can be targeted for promoting improper ideas or thoughts. And we are not even discussing Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Ulysses, classics which did face charges of obscenity even in the West. Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina could also be accused of glamorising, if not promoting, adultery. Gone With the Wind, both the novel and the movie, is open to the criticism that it portrays slavery as practised in the American South in soft focus. Dante’s Divine Comedy depicts Islam in a bad light.
Indian literary works can face charges of exalting ideals and values that would harm any society. Agyey’s Shekhar: Ek Jiwani has shades of an incestuous relationship. Premchand’s Nirmala also has a similar implication. Bimal Mitra’s Sahib Bibi aur Ghulam, on which a great Hindi film was also made, is all about the decadence of feudalism, complete with mentions of debauchery and profligacy. U.R. Anantha Murthy’s Kannada novel, Samskara, exposes the hollowness of Hindu traditions. Bankim Chandra’s Anandmath does not have a very charitable mention of Muslims.
In other words, if offending the sensibilities, hurting the sentiments, and the contemporary standards of morality and decency are accepted as yardsticks for proscribing or limiting a creative work, it will be a serious setback to the freedom of expression, for practically every great work will become the target.
Whipping up frenzy among the people and transmogrifying them into a rabble, any political party, pressure group, or publicity-seeker can build up a campaign against any movie or book of philosophy, history, and literature. They do that quite often. If they are allowed to succeed, it would spell the end of civilisation as we know it.