It has been difficult not to be reminded of Satanic Verses since news items started trickling out —first, a few days back, about demands for a ban on Aarakshan and then, even more bizarrely, about actual bans being imposed in UP, Punjab and now AP — ruled respectively by the BSP, the Akalis and the BJP, and the Congress.
Needless to say, none of the worthies demanding or deciding on the ban have seen the film. In fact, they have been boasting on TV that they haven't.
Initially, when self-appointed spokespersons of various groups had got up to demand a ban on the grounds that the film was likely to be anti-reservations and therefore likely to lead to disturbances in law and order, cynics among us thought the film could not possibly have asked for a better publicity campaign.
One thought that bodies like the NCSC would be quietly told that their demands were outside their remit. The CBFC stand was exemplary and the fact that Mr Prakash Jha still decided to edit the "objectionable scenes" has more to do with the economics of film-making which make it necessary for film-makers bend to the politicians' unreasonable diktats than anything else.
It seemed as if even to comment on the sheer absurdity of the demands would be giving these fringe groups a legitimacy they did not deserve. But that was when it seemed reasonably certain that the state governments would act responsibly and allow the film to be screened in normal course. But now, with competitive politics having taken over and three state governments having announced their ridiculous bans, with the ban epidemic seeming all set to spread to other states, perhaps the obvious does need to be stated all over again.
So here goes:
Certainly, anybody and everybody has a right to protest against a film, but the only body to protest to is the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) that is in charge of clearing and certifying films.
It does not matter in the least whether or not the film is pro- or anti-reservations — or that it is a cop out and does not take any stand.
As of now, it should not concern us whether or not it is a good, bad, ugly or indifferent film. All that we should concern ourselves is whether the state governments have the right to impose these ridiculous and idiotic bans. Yes, they do have the responsibility to maintain law and order, but that should not be allowed to become an alibi to ban any thing on their whims and fancies on the simple pretext that not doing so would result in a public disturbance.
This is not the first time that we are seeing this sorry spectacle. Each such incident only emboldens and acts as a precedent for more and more such demands to be raised. The politicians involved and state governments need to be challenged in respective High Courts, or directly in the Supreme Court. Chances are that the courts would direct the governments to ensure that freespeech rights are upheld. Bombay and Madras High Courts had already rightly refused to intervene and rejected petitions demanding a special screening of the film before its release.
If a state government is incapable of maintaining law and order and takes recourse to knee-jerk bans raising the bogey of perceived threats, it has no business to be in power.