The recently released movie 'The Kerala Story’ is doing rounds in the political ecosystem in India. Political parties across ideologies are grappling with the ongoing debate of whether to promote, support the demand for its ban, or be totally indifferent to this controversial movie.
It is said to have flagged concerns regarding purported Islamic conversions to ISIS and issues like "love jihad" with special reference to Kerala by portraying prima facie oral testimonies of some alleged victims in such cases, and bringing into focus human rights violation and national security threats at large.
There is nothing new about objections raised against the movie's screening and demands for its ban makes it join the long list of movies like PK, Mohalla Assi, Laal Singh Chaddha, and a BBC documentary on the Modi question, and several others.
Therefore, is the Bengal government's decision to ban this movie in the state the right way to deal with issues of polarisation and communal tensions? It indeed warrants the government to ascertain the maintenance of law and order if anything untoward takes place.
Indian Movies & the Ban Culture
Based on mere presumptions or potential turbulences and chaos in the aftermath of the screening, the government's action to ban the movie sets an unideal precedent, which I argue, is an act of state feudalism.
State feudalism is a government's hegemonic ideological position in its territoriality. This ban culture negates the normativity of a democratic apparatus, in which to conserve the right of freedom of speech and expression becomes paramount within the limits of public health and constitutional morality.
This ban culture is evidently the medieval feudal expression to relegate dissent and sometimes hinder uncomfortable truths which the state government should refrain from doing. We have several examples in the past where the state government has not sanctioned a ban on the publication of content that directly attacked their governance model.
For instance, a magazine depicted 'Bandar ka hath me Bihar' (Bihar in the hands of a monkey) and 'Ram Vilas ya Bhogvilas’ (Ram Vilas or luxury) when the attributed leader was in power.
The important thing is to distinguish between ban and censorship. As this movie passed through the censorship board of film certification, there shouldn’t be a legitimate arm of the government to ban this whist in pursuit of state feudalism.
Does a Ban Showcase Micro Fascism?
This kind of ban often showcases the micro fascism of groups. For instance, in British India, under pressure from certain sections of society to demand the ban of the 'Satyarth Prakash’ book of the Arya Samaj—a sect of social reform in the Hindu fold, the government succumbed to appease the colonial rulers.
We Indians have a greater civic tradition of collective wisdom in assessing such debates. Even in contemporary times, films like Damul, God Mother, Bandit Queen, Bawandar, and PK, which reflect questions of caste atrocities, sexualities, and religiosity, were not banned and these have in their times, gone against majoritarian sentiments.
In a democratic nation, to question the prevalent problems of discrimination and atrocities within any minority group must be left open for examination and cure. And I think in this framework, ‘The Kerala Story’ and a similar picturisation on issues of societal concerns must be put in the public domain.
So, the Bengal government's decision to ban is to counter the current NDA dispensation. Hence, the question arises, that if a non-NDA government is in power, will they act in the same fashion—will they shift their position or maintain their stand? Apart from the state government's role to maintain law and order situation, they have the responsibility to educate the masses on socio-political issues, and conduct awareness programmes for their democratic rights.
The remedy is not state feudalism but the awareness among people to learn tolerance and let things come out clean.
(Vikash Raj is a PhD scholar at the Dept of Political Science in University of Delhi. This is an opinion piece. The views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for them.)