Much ado about nothing

Updated: May 18 2006, 05:30am hrs
Are we, as a nation, going to allow religious sentiments to decide what we are to read or view despite the freedom of expression promised to us in the Constitution Should art, literature, cinema, etc be banned simply because persons claiming to speak for a community decide that it hurts its religious sentiments The issue has again come centre-stage following the decision of the government to put the release of the movie, The Da Vinci Code, on hold based on objections raised by the catholic church.

Information and broadcasting minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshis decision not to allow the movie to be screened unless it has been cleared by both, the members of the Catholic church and the censor board, smacks of rank populism. The movie has already been cleared for screening by the censor board, which presumably comprises sensible, thinking individuals. So where is the need for the minister to step in Of course, the UPA government is not the first to try and play this populist card. In 1998 the Congress government was only too willing to ban Salman Rushdies Satanic Verses after former MP Syed Shahabuddin labelled it blasphemous. In 2004, the Maharashtra government did likewise banning US scholar James Laines work, ShivajiHindu King in Islamic India for what were deemed as derogatory references to Shivajis parentage.

Our political class is only too willing to pander to such objections. Weve seen this intolerance in the case of theatre, paintings and other forms of art. It is not long ago that there was a furore over MF Hussains depiction of Hindu goddesses; he still faces criminal prosecution on these. There was the state clamp on a play which tried to understand Nathuram Godses motivation in assassinating Gandhi. These are only the more prominent instances of a depressingly widespread phenomenon.

Its about time we decided whether we want to be known as an enlightened nation or one that is unable to live and let live. If a book or film or performance offends someone, who is forcing him or her to see it Leave individual choice alone.