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The Clear Stream Of Reason Has Lost Its Way

Gag on “The Argumentative Indian’

By      Ratan Bhattacharjee

The freedom to interrogate is a part of Indian Hinduism since the days of Gargi and Arjuna. Arjuna interrogated Lord Krishna and Gargi interrogated Yajnavalkya. Lopamudra  Maitreyi all were loud argumentative Indians. Even Lord Krishna did not throttle the voice of Arjuna and on the other hand convinced him by giving his rational reply which later became Bhagavad Gita. But in the name of Hinduism, Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen is being barred from uttering the word ‘Cow’ in the recently produced film on him ‘The Argumentative Indian’ by Suman Ghosh.

Last year ‘Udta Punjab’ a film on epidemic drug abuse was censored and the Bombay High Court later overturned the dictat of the Censor Board for making 90 changes. Another film ‘Lipstick Under My Burkha’ where four women were shown struggling for identity and safety in a small Indian city was also censored as ‘lady oriented’ in the name of audio pornography . High quality journalism is an intellectual nourishment for any nation. But even on journalists the pressure is mounting  day by day. Only last month the Modi Government tried to throttle NDTV and the voice of liberal-learning news channel was throttled. Prominent journalists of the channel were warned  and all these only reflect an assault on freedom of expression.

Now the political bias becomes strong in the decision of the censor board  when the hyper-activity is seen in gagging the voice of Nobel Laureate and Harvard Professor Amartya Sen in the film, ‘The Argumentative Indian’ directed by  Suman Ghosh  on filmy grounds. The producers were ordered to  secure the approval of the prime minister’s office before the release of the film. The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) told film maker that words like ‘Gujarat’, ‘cow’ ‘Hindu’ ‘Hindutva view of India’ should be removed from the dialogue of Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen in the documentary.

 Reacting to this Sen said, “This shows again that the country is in the hands of authoritarians.” What they did not like is not the word Gujarat but what Amartya Sen said about the happenings in Gujarat in 2002. In the documentary, the Harvard Professor criticized the ‘restricted vision’ of India espoused by the present Modi Government. The Nobel Laureate is always against attempts to redefine India as a Hindu nation and advocated boldly in favour of pluralist vision of democracy which had been the vision of far-sighted Indian leaders. In the context of recent mob attacks on cattle traders  and dairy farmers and even on an innocent boy like Junaid  by the cow vigilantes from fringe Hindutva propagators , this censor is quite significant . But it was never imagined that the cow gag can come to this height. The appointment of the staunch Modi supporter two years ago as the Chief Censor seems to  have pleased the Hindu India dreamers  who want to throttle the voice that can keep democracy alive.

The first part of the documentary was shot in 2002 and it was re-edited in 2017 because the documentary wanted to accommodate the latest happenings in India and the world.  Suman Ghosh feels that his film is vindicated because the very title is justified which is taken from one of the essays of the Laureate and the film really sparked off a violent argument in the country. Only the other day the BJP activists and RSS fanatics have shouted slogans in Bashirhat which was almost on the verge of communal riot  to make West Bengal a Gujarat. The hyper-sensitivity on the portrayal of Gujarat in the film is now understandable. Lynching, the Cow and Gujarat in the film now seem to have  ironical  implications. It is interesting that the word ‘Cow’ is not the only favourite word of Amartya Sen if one reads his works seriously. It is rather the most uttered words for the Hindu -India supporters. So the demand for removing the word ‘Cow’ is quite significant but ridiculous at the same time. Suman Ghosh raised the question pertinently as to who these censor boards really serve now. At least one good the censor board has done for the documentary is that now many will know and argue about it and may be many more will now be interested in watching the film which ends with the famous poem of Tagore’ Where the  mind is without fear and the head is held high’ recited by famous actor Victor Banerjee.

That in Tagore’s Land  the icon of staunch liberalism Amartya Sen cannot say ‘Cow’ is  really painful . He had his schooling in Shanti Niketan and his name was given by Tagore himself. His grandfather K.M.Sen was a Sanskritist and an expert on Hinduism although they  never had any religious rituals at home. The Sen family had fairly religious convictions in conformity with non-ceremonial version of Hinduism and world view of Tagore.  So Amartya Sen cannot do anything that may go against India and Hinduism in the true sense. Appointment of a Hindu extremist like Yogi Adityanath as Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh where about a fifth of whose 200 million people are Muslims is really disappointing . Too much sensitivity over cow is being manufactured by the Hindutva propagandists. Too much dependence on a strident form of Hindu nationalism has already done much harm to the secular foundation of India.  Finally, even an intellectual of Amartya Sen’s stature is being maligned in the name of ‘Cow’ and ‘ Hindutva,’ This shows the extent of repression going on and how violently these Cow-mother worshippers are trying to communalise the secular structure which is really unconstitutional for a socialist secular republic as  India is envisaged in  the  Preamble to the Constitution. ‘Religious minorities will all have the right to practice their religion” wrote even Vinayak Savarkar of an India he envisioned. Today that too is forgotten. Hindu nationalist agenda which Modi Government is reinventing after a few years of power will affect regional as well as global phenomenon and it will encourage the fundamentalist forces to ignore the principles of tolerance.

Already China is breathing heavy on our borders and Pakistan is lying in wait for an excuse to create disturbances by supporting the jihadis. The terrorist forces cannot be given scope in any way by this sort of Hindutva propaganda where a loud voice of a man like Amartya Sen is being muffled. It is unfortunate and simply augurs chaos in the land of Tagore and Gandhi who  envisioned an India where ‘ words come out from the depths of truth/Where tireless striving stretches  its arms towards perfection/Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way….” No one not even the staunch Modi Supporter Censor Board Chief  Pahlaj Nihalani or  anyone of his type will be ever  able to  gag the argumentative Amartya Sen  the icon of Indian Hinduism which embraces a secular world vision.

Dr. Ratan Bhattacharjee is Associate Professor and Head , Post Graduate Dept of English. He is a poet and also contributes articles to national dailies. He may be reached at [email protected]

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