May 17, 2006Public Policy

Laughingstock

That’s what competitive intolerance is turning India into

This is an archived blog post from The Acorn.

The reason why India has a censor board is so that a group of reasonable, responsible and representative citizens can act as guardians of public morality of the cinematic kind. Whether censorship itself is desirable or not, entrusting the job to a censor board is far better than entrusting it to one person or group.That’s one reason Priyaranjan Dasmunshi, India’s minister for information and broadcasting, should have left The Da Vinci Code to the censor board. Instead, not only did he ask the censor board to hold back from making its call, he also announced that a final decision on its screening will be made after he has watched it in the company of members from the Catholic church.

Meanwhile, that movie will be released worldwide, with simultaneous screenings not only in Rome, but also in many Catholic majority countries. If the Minister and the ministers give it a thumbs down after their joint viewing session, the UPA government would have succeeded in turning India into a laughingstock. Not least because Dan Brown’s book is available in bookstores and streetcorners.

India has always been a religious society. The problem is not so much religiosity itself, but the exhibitionist intolerance that arises from the politicisation of religion. Indeed, this has unleashed competitive intolerance, where each community seeks to outdo the other in demonstrating thinness of skin and thereby, its political weight. (We got a movie banned. You? Ah! We burnt down a library) The culture of community-based entitlements that the UPA government has cynically encouraged only ensures that communities of every stripe have every incentive of putting up an agitated show of displeasure to signal their demands to be counted.

Dasmunshi’s decision to seek the Catholic church’s approval sets a troublesome precedent. If he applies this principle across the board, Dasmunshi will be watching many movies in the company of any number of interest groups whose fragile sentiments may have been hurt by filmmakers. The censor board should be allowed to do its job without political interference. Its decisions can always be challenged in the judiciary. India has an institutional mechanism to deal with such things as controversial films. The Catholic Church of India is not a part of that.

Related Links: Reuben Abraham, Patrix and JK and Gaurav Sabnis are all outraged. Atanu Dey had written about this sometime ago. Naveen Mandava discusses it in the context of rule of law and economic freedom.



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