He may have won a Nobel prize, but world-renowned Harvard economist Amartya Sen is not allowed to say the word “cow” in a new documentary, India’s movie censor board has ruled.
The documentary, called “The Argumentative Indian,” is named after a book of essays written by Sen which dwells (rather ironically) on India’s long history of intellectual pluralism and public debate. The movie will not get a license for public screenings in India unless the cuts are implemented.
Censors have not said why the word “cow” is objectionable. The documentary at one point talks about the Hindu nationalist, self-styled cow protectors who attack people, mainly Muslims, for carrying or eating beef. Hindus consider the cow to be sacred.
The move comes against the backdrop of a rising nationalistic fervor in India following the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party in 2014. The party has pushed policies in line with its conservative view of Hinduism, the majority religion of this diverse nation.
Director Suman Ghosh told India’s Telegraph that the censors’ cuts “underlines the relevance of the documentary in which Sen highlights the growing intolerance in India.”
He added that, “there is no way I would agree to beep or mute or change anything that one of the greatest minds of our times has said in the documentary.”
It wasn’t just cows that caught the censors’ attention. Ghosh was also asked by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to remove words such as “Gujarat,” the name of an Indian state, “Hindu India,” and “Hindutva view of India,” referring to the nationalist Hindu ideology espoused by the ruling BJP. The film now faces a lengthy appeal process through which he will attempt to fight the censor board’s decision.
In India, where films draw audiences of millions, nationalist ideology has slowly seeped into the experience of going to the movies. In 2016, the Supreme Court ordered that the national anthem must play before every screening, and audiences must stand during it.
The CBFC has increasingly come under fire for overzealous censorship and moral policing under the leadership of Pahlaj Nihalani, a vocal supporterof the BJP, who appears to take offense to any implied criticism of India or its dominant religion.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Vidhi Doshi