When India became 100 literati

India: The censorship has a tradition and a system

On December 16, 2012, a group of young men brutally raped 23-year-old student Jyoti Singh Pandey in Delhi. She died a short time later from her injuries. Since then the situation of women in India has come into the focus of the broad world public. The debates about violence against women and what to do about it are controversial. A really well-founded and open discussion about the complex social and political factors is hardly possible in India. This discussion would touch on the two big taboo subjects in Indian society: sexuality and religion.

The Hindu nationalist forces in society are strong. For fear that they will get upset about supposedly "blasphemous" cultural goods, India has a restrictive censorship policy. The result is a minefield for the entire cultural scene in the country. The long overdue social discussion about the two taboo topics of sexuality and religion is thus nipped in the bud.

Rubber paragraph with consequences

India's image in the world is closely linked to its economic strength. Together with the other BRICS countries Brazil, Russia, China and South Africa, the country is one of the emerging economies. The government likes to refer to India as the largest democracy in the world and also refers to Article 19 of the Constitution. The law guarantees freedom of expression as a fundamental civil right of a secular republic. On the other hand, India pursues a strict censorship policy, which goes back to a rubber paragraph in the penal code from the British colonial era.

In 1927 a book about the alleged sexual permissiveness of the Prophet Mohammad caused serious unrest among the Muslim population in Punjab, in which the editor of the book was murdered. Against the background of a possible escalation of the conflict between Hindus and Muslims, the British colonial administration issued an ordinance that still applies to this day: Section 295a of the Indian Penal Code. It says that anyone who "deliberately and maliciously" violates the religious feelings of others will be punished with up to three years in prison. Over the past 80 years, this paragraph has been used countless times to ban or censor theater performances, art exhibitions, and books.

What does not fit is made to fit

The author Salman Rushdie at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2015

The internationally most prominent victim of Indian censorship was Salman Rushdie's book "Satanic Verses" in 1988. Rushdie was also denied an entry visa for years. Just recently, in November 2015, a former Indian government minister admitted that banning Rushdie's book from Indian bookstores was a "mistake". Rushdie's response on Twitter was sarcastic: "This insight took 27 years. How many more years does it take to correct this" mistake "?"

The case of the American writer Katherine Mayo is even further back. In her 1936 book "The Face of Mother India", she described high-profile cases of child marriage, domestic violence and rape and sparked an international scandal. Despite the ban, this book, among other things, led to the fact that a short time later the minimum age at marriage in India was raised to 13 years.

The most recent example of dealing with women's issues is the ban on the outstanding BBC documentary "India's Daughter" (2015) by Leslee Udwin, which triggered worldwide media coverage.

There is no public criticism of Hinduism

Open discussion about modern Hinduism is also prevented by the restrictive censorship. For many cultural workers, this leads to self-censorship in advance or, in extreme cases, drives them into exile.

The author Arundhati Roy gave back the Indian national prize in protest

This fate met one of the most renowned and internationally recognized Indian painters of the 20th century, Maqbul Fida Husain. The "Picasso of India", as he was often referred to by the media, had portrayed Indian goddesses naked in some of his pictures. He then received death threats from Hindu extremists who offered prize money to whoever would cut off Hussain's hands. Husain left the country in 2006 with the words: "Who can guarantee the safety of my hands? I am nothing without my hands." He died in London in 2011.

The Indian essayist and Booker Prize winner Arundhati Roy returned the Indian national prize in November 2015 in protest against the increasing religiously motivated attacks by Hindu extremists against minorities. "Entire sections of the population - millions of untouchable Dalits, tribal peoples, Muslims and Christians - have to live in horror, not knowing when and where the next attack will happen," wrote Roy in an article for the Indian Express newspaper.

Hope lives on

Does that mean that India is a land of hopelessness where there is no freedom of expression? No, it goes without saying that India has a very rich culture - today as in the past. In many traditional texts, Indian culture is referred to as "Sa Prathama Sanskrati Vishvavara", the first and greatest culture in the world. At least it is one of the oldest in the world; from the great epic works like the "Ramayana" and the "Mahabharata" to the invention of the digit zero. There are architectural masterpieces like the Taj Mahal and next to it an entertainment industry that has made a name for itself around the world with its "Bollywood" films. Indian culture manifests itself in many ways in traditions, values, languages ​​and arts.

Best seller in the world: Bollywood films from India

And then there is the culture of protest, the independence movement and the path that Gandhi showed. All of this gives rise to hope that, through the various expressions of the arts, people will resist any kind of injustice until India stands up again. But this is only possible if all taboo topics can be addressed in order to then find solutions.

This process has actually started. At that time - after the rape and murder - tens of thousands took to the streets for Jyoti Singh Pandey in several cities across the country. The public made it clear that it wants a new role for women in India. On September 13, 2013, a Delhi court found the six defendants guilty. So hope lives on, thanks to social media and the constant struggle of feminist groups as well as civil rights activists and especially humanists. May India soon raise the flag of freedom of expression again.

The author Debarati Guha works as a team leader in the Bengali editorial team at Deutsche Welle. Your text was created in cooperation with the magazine "Politik und Kultur" for the project "Art of Freedom. Freedom of Art."