Artistic Freedom and Expression by Prathik Karthikeyan From Jindal Global Law School
The recent film “Lipstick under my Burkha” a genuinely well-made movie with an intriguing narrative and a stellar cast was an intrinsically engaging movie both to the audience as well as Indian society which is still struggling to come to terms with women’s equality and the conception of female liberty and freedom, a movie truly representative of Indian women and their aspirations encapsulated in a work of art which nobody could possibly find overtly offensive, because the intention both implicitly and explicitly was only to voice an opinion on something as universally accepted as gender equality. Yet through some joke of the cosmos it was deemed to be far too offensive to be shown to an Indian audience by the Censor Board of India as it was not in consonance with Indian norms and against the nation’s ethos but they failed to ask the simplest question to themselves “Wouldn’t it be a shame not to allow a movie that has won awards internationally in the nation where it was made?”. Not affording the people of the country to see a work of art made by their own artists in their own land, isn’t a fair nor logical interpretation in any way considering the egalitarian intent in the film, only after an unnecessarily long procedure was the film able to be screened in India, a true shame for artistic expression.
Censorship is to filter out explicitly offensive material which is made with the intention of purposefully vitiating a situation of violence or warping historically accepted wrongs to propagate hate and violence, for something to qualify as overtly offensive it has to meet a certain criterion the standard of which should be extremely high especially in the case of art and social media, spaces which are necessary for the expression of people’s opinions cannot be limited by arbitrary limits set by any person or group. Even the government must limit itself to extremely rare cases wherein the intention is solely to incite violence or hate. It’s understandable that attempting to regulate the freedom of speech because the freedom of speech doesn’t presuppose the freedom of interpretation, however the freedom of interpretation cannot go on flights of fancy that interpret things using not concrete facts but large overarching concepts that are themselves subject to interpretation and are too large to quantify as a simple defence although it is unfortunately used far too often by our censor board like “culture” which cannot possibly be co-opted for the purpose of restricting the freedom of expression.
The Freedom of Expression is a fundamental right and is ingrained in the soul of our constitution and the basic principles liberty and equality and shouldn’t be misconstrued as vehicle for values to be enforced onto the people especially in a society as heterogeneous as India whose people are as so diverse, a true melting pot of culture cannot be compartmentalized into what is acceptable and what isn’t. Muzzling artists is especially detrimental because art in any form whether it be through speech, visual art or digital art, art is a medium that seeks to hold a mirror to society and act as a representation of society no matter in how big or how small a sense. It’s generally art that is able to encapsulate an evolution of human thought like in the Renaissance where the focus of art shifted away from God and Royalty to showcase the individual or focus more on human interactions or abstract concepts a sign of the strengthening in people’s own liberty to choose what they wanted to represent, a sign that power structures did not have all encompassing power to dictate people’s lives and that the individuality of each person must be respected and allowed to flourish, and no one authority can dictate how a person feels about something. Artistic Expression is hence inalienable from the Art and from society as a whole as well. Silencing people of a different opinion is the moment a person or a power structure begins to believe they are omnipotent, and a truly function democracy nobody is always right and allowing them to continue to make mistakes or even afford them the opportunity to voice a view in a productive number cannot be left out.
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