Unjust ban

Threat of violence cant be reason for the ban.

The continuing ban on the screening of Kamal Haasan’s film Vishwaroopam is a slur on the Tamil Nadu government and a sign of the refusal of the state to protect the fundamental right to freedom of expression, as the ban is unjustified on any ground that can be invoked in such cases. The film, which was originally set to be released in January, was first subjected to a two-week ban. It was cleared by a single bench of the Madras high court but a larger bench has re-imposed the ban. The hardship being created for the makers of the film is the least of the concern in these situations, though these are also huge in multi-crore ventures like this. Haasan has been driven to such despair that he has even talked of exiling himself from the country.

The ostensible and stated reason for the ban – one is not sure if that is the real reason – is the objections raised by some fringe Muslim organisations which claim that the film has depicted the community in a bad light. This is not an acceptable ground because the film censor board, which examines films on the basis of the stringent provisions of the Cinematography Act, has cleared the film. No state government or any other authority can ban a film which has passed successfully through the censor body’s hands. Chief minister J Jayalalitha, who has invoked the fears of law and order problem, has now asked Hassan to talk to Muslim organisations as a precursor to lifting the ban. The apprehension of violence appears misplaced as in places outside Tamil Nadu where the film has been released it has not resulted in any law and order problem. In any case the Supreme Court in past judgments has made it clear that the threat of violence or protests can not be cited as a reason for curbing freedom of expression. In such situations it is actually the duty of the state to protect the right to expression.

It is artists, writers and thinkers who become easy targets of attacks and curbs. Sometimes even their physical presence is shunned, objected to or banned. The West Bengal government ensured that Salman Rushdie did not visit Kolkota on Wednesday, even though no organisation had  opposed his visit. The assaults on basic freedoms of all kinds have become too frequent and pervasive for comfort, as many recent events have shown.

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