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Changing contours of censorship FAISAL DEVJI The laws that religious groups wish to enforce against literary and

artistic works they consider offensive are colonial in origin, and presuppose the existence of an alien society driven by primordial identities A professor at the University of Chicago, the Sanskritist Wendy Doniger has eco!e the "atest victi! of India#s ra! $nctio$s po"itics of free e%pression& 'er ())* vo"$!e, The Hindus: An Alternative History, +as recent"y +ithdra+n and p$"ped y ,eng$in -ooks, in an o$$rt sett"e!ent +ith a 'ind$ gro$p that had protested against its s$pposed"y ins$"ting and sa"acio$s content& India#s !edia and inte""igentsia are reg$"ar"y f"$ng into controversy over s$ch incidents of censorship and even vio"ence against a$thors, artists or fi"!. !akers& Indeed a co$p"e of years ago, the sa!e 'ind$ o$tfit had forced De"hi University to +ithdra+ fro! its c$rric$"$! an essay on the /a!ayana y another University of Chicago professor, the "ate A&0& /a!an$1an& Whi"e censorship and threats to e%pression in India have a "ong history going ack to co"onia" ti!es, they have a"so $ndergone !any changes thro$gh this period& D$ring the Co"d War for instance, +hen the co$ntry +as sti"" re"ative"y c"osed, po"itica""y as !$ch as econo!ica""y, these controversies +ere rare and the state chiefly responsible for bans. But since Indias liberalisation in the 1980s, and the emergence of powerful new corporations, political parties and social mo ements, the fight

o er free e!pression has altered considerably& For one, the state no longer plays the primary role in initiating censorship, and indeed often remains silent when religious groups demand the withdrawal of an offending wor"& ,rovincia" govern!ents or even the co$rts accede to the!& #efined by publicity With the e%pansion of private te"evision stations in partic$"ar, these controversies have a"so co!e to e defined y p$ "icity, even !ore than y the offending ite! that so!e +o$"d proscri e and others defend& Certain"y, a n$! er of !inor and hasti"y p$t.together re"igio$s o$tfits have !anaged to achieve nationa" and so!eti!es even internationa" fa!e y attacking +riters "ike 2as"i!a 3asreen or artists s$ch as 4&F& '$sain& And this is to say nothing a o$t those +ho attack ordinary peop"e for doing things "ike ce"e rating Va"entine#s Day +hich they consider foreign and "ascivio$s& S$ch threats, in other +ords, are prod$ced y the very 5g"o a"isation6 against +hich they are so se"ective"y directed, and are often dep"oyed as te!porary advertise!ents for protesting gro$ps rather than as s$stained attacks on free e%pression& $n free e!pression 7et, despite these changes, the 5de ate6 on free e%pression re!ains c$rio$s"y $nvarying in India, its reference eing the c"ich8.ridden history of "i era"is!#s rise fro! 9:th Cent$ry E$rope#s re"igio$s +ars, +hen sec$"aris! +as a""eged"y pitted in a !etaphysica" att"e against theo"ogica" o sc$rantis!& 2his stereotyped narrative is so po+erf$" that in the c$rrent controversy

over Dr& Doniger#s ook, on"y Ar$ndhati /oy has addressed the iss$e in the for! of a ;$estion, rather than treat it as so!ething a o$t +hich everything is a"ready kno+n& 4s /oy points o$t that an e"ection ca!paign has infor!a""y eg$n in India, one that y the s$!!er is e%pected to ring the 'ind$ nationa"ist -haratiya Janata ,arty to po+er& And it is +ith an eye to their fate $nder the ne+ dispensation, she s$ggests, that p$ "ishers and !edia ho$ses are vo"$ntari"y !$<<"ing their +riters and 1o$rna"ists, even +itho$t the threat of "a+ or vio"ence& -$t is this sit$ation est descri ed as a !etaphysica" att"e et+een re"igion and sec$"aris!, or is s$ch an end"ess"y repeated narrative itse"f a theo"ogica" one= Interesting is the fact that so !any defenders of free e%pression have 5theo"ogised6 the Doniger controversy y descri ing her 'ind$ opponents as iss$ing a 5fatwa,6 and citing the protests over Sa"!an /$shdie#s The Satanic Verses as a precedent for their actions& A fe+ co!!entators have pointed o$t that this resort to references "ike 52a"i anisation6 a!o$nts to 5Is"a!ising6 an iss$e in +hich 4$s"i!s are not active& 4ore i!portant, ho+ever, !ight e the +ay in +hich Is"a! serves to g"o a"ise a very Indian controversy, and sit$ate it +ithin a narrative that is internationa""y recognised& 2his is a +ay of tying India to the West as an e! att"ed society in +hich 4$s"i!s, or those "ike the!, pose the rea" threat& So, 'ind$ protesters the!se"ves often c"ai! that they !$st ehave "ike 4$s"i!s, if on"y in order to est the!& >f co$rse India#s 4$s"i!s have not een shy to protest so!e h$rt to their senti!ents, and to avenge +hat they

take to e ins$"ts against their re"igion in vio"ent +ays& -$t instead of "a!ing one re"igio$s co!!$nity or another for the!, it ehoves $s to ask +hat !akes these c"ai!s possi "e in the first p"ace& 2he "a+s that re"igio$s gro$ps +ish to enforce against "iterary and artistic +orks they consider offensive are co"onia" in origin, and pres$ppose the e%istence of an a"ien society driven y pri!ordia" identities, one that can on"y e !anaged y the state acting as a ne$tra" ar iter& So, 5re"igion6 and 5sec$"aris!6 here are not opposed so !$ch as dependent each one $pon the other& In the Doniger case, for e%a!p"e, the offended 'ind$ gro$p not on"y venti"ated its 5h$rt senti!ents,6 $t a"so, and in consonance +ith the "a+, c"ai!ed that her ook +as ca"c$"ated to so+ discord et+een India#s re"igio$s co!!$nities, to avoid +hich it had to e anned& In other +ords, a re"igio$s gro$p +as here speaking in the na!e of the sec$"ar state, asking for its intervention, so as to prevent a threat to p$ "ic order posed y those +ho !ight $se Wendy Doniger#s ook to provoke 'ind$s& 2he co"onia" !ode" of censorship, of co$rse, +as as concerned +ith 5sec$"ar6 s$ 1ects "ike state secrets and sedition as +ith 5re"igio$s6 ones& And this is tr$e even in today#s India, !any of +hose districts are ro$tine"y s$ 1ected to very severe for!s of state repression that cri!ina"ises any e%pression of dissent& 7et, every great controversy over free e%pression, in ter!s of the pop$"ar !o i"isation and !edia attention it receives, has to do +ith the re"igio$s rather than po"itica" or even corporate threats to e%pression, oth of +hich are far fro! $nco!!on& 2his is a very different state of affairs than in E$rope or A!erica, despite the /$shdie affair and

other controversies a o$t re"igion there& For none of these detract fro! de ates over the state#s contro" of infor!ation that are in o$r day associated +ith fig$res "ike J$"ian Assange, -rad"ey 4anning or Ed+ard Sno+den& #ebates internal to secularism Is it perhaps the case that defenders of free e%pression in India !$st end"ess"y rehearse the !etaphysica" conf"ict that constit$tes its fo$nding script, and y e;$a"ising a"" 5re"igio$s6 threats to ref$se any rea" ana"ysis of each one= Indian "i era"s foc$s on fe""o+ citi<ens as posing the rea" threat to free e%pression, +ith the state conde!ned on"y for its inaction or appease!ent of their re"igio$s de!ands& In their o sessive need to see in every s$ch threat the att"e et+een re"igion and sec$"aris!, these "i era"s adopt the perspective of the co"onia" state, for +hich on"y s$ 1ects co$"d represent an in1$ry to freedo! of e%pression& It is certain"y tr$e that !o i"isations over re"igion have in !odern India een the ones to i!peri" p$ "ic order and give rise to "arge. sca"e vio"ence, so this o session is not entire"y $n+arranted& 2he !etaphysica" character of the conf"ict it envisages, ho+ever, is +hat is te""ing, since there is nothing partic$"ar"y 5re"igio$s6 a o$t the arg$!ents of 'ind$, 4$s"i! or indeed Christian protesters in India& Un"ike A!erican de ates a o$t iss$es "ike a ortion or evo"$tion, no co!!$nity of protesting Indians ever !akes theo"ogica" arg$!ents or even tr$th c"ai!s a o$t its e"iefs& A"" they do is refer to deceptive"y de"icate 5h$rt senti!ents6 and threats of disorder, +itho$t asking for the "ega" recognition of any doctrine, as, for instance, happens in neigh o$ring ,akistan +ith the

Sharia& Even in their vio"ence, therefore, +hich can so!eti!es e very great, controversies of this kind see! to take India#s p"$ra" society for granted, tho$gh they +o$"d redefine it in ever !ore hierarchica" +ays that are eeri"y congr$ent +ith the instit$tion of caste& 4oreover, as Jonathan Shainin has pointed o$t in The ew !orker, the 5notice6 sent to Dr& Doniger and her p$ "isher acc$ses the ook of propo$nding +hat so!e acade!ics +o$"d ca"" 5>rienta"is!,6 +hich the "ate Co"$! ia University professor Ed+ard Said descri ed as a for! of scho"arship pre!ised $pon the syste!atic denigration of non.+estern c$"t$res for i!peria"istic p$rposes& So, Dr& Doniger is he"d to e !otivated y a Christian !issionary i!p$"se, to se"ective"y foc$s on aspects of 'ind$is! that are intended to h$!i"iate its fo""o+ers, and to vie+ the re"igion fro! a se%$a" perspective that goes against the vie+s of its devotees& Cr$cia""y, the notice against Dr& Doniger and her p$ "isher serves to de!onstrate that conf"icts over free e%pression in India are not !etaphysica" att"es +aged et+een 5re"igion6 and 5sec$"aris!,6 $t instead de ates interna" to the "atter& Indeed it is re!arka "e ho+ !$ch the far /ight in India, "ike so !any of their peers e"se+here, has taken fro! erst+hi"e 5progressive6 notions& Witho$t eing cognisant of this sit$ation, the defenders of free e%pression end $p representing the 5theo"ogica"6 position they +o$"d conde!n, +ith their o+n protests taking the for! of so !any rit$a" "a!ents and i!precations& "#aisal $ev%i is reader in &ndian History and fellow of St' Antony(s )ollege at the *niversity of +xford'