Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Time to wrap up the CBFC

The Chief of the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), better knows as the Censor Board, has come in for criticism on social media from civil society as well as his own board members over a list her circulated, listing out 'objectionable' words that would invite an automatic ban on films, including the word 'Bombay,' the colonial name for India's financial capital, Mumbai. By one Board member's own admission, these rules are an extreme infringement of the creative freedom that filmmakers need.

However, the issue is not whether this list is right or wrong, for that is a subjective matter that has no answer. The real question is why a democracy like India has laws that enable such things to be banned in the first place - in other words, why should a government-appointed CBFC even exist? Why should we be willing to barter something as basic as communication (via films, in this case) for so-called peace and stability?

Consider what the government does: it monopolizes violence, so that only the police can legally use force against civilians. Therefore, it does not allow people to have any role in maintaining law and order, which means it and it alone is responsible for it. It cannot then put the onus of preventing violence on people. To illustrate, if they could, filmmakers who make so-called provocative films should also arrange for a private army to protect their screenings. But since they are barred by law from doing so by the state, the state itself is responsible for providing that protection. By having a Censor Board, the state tries to have it both ways - to control speech and also violence.

And that is why the CBFC is simply against the very idea of free speech and a democratic society. It is one thing to rate a movie for various audiences and quite another to ban it outright. We cannot have it both ways. 

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