The Film 'Water' and the Freedom of Expression

The rightists have proclaimed that they will not allow the film 'Water' to be shot in Varanasi. The government of Uttar Pradesh which is being run by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) instead of controlling this hooliganism has banned the shooting of the film. Now it is being proclaimed that the shooting will not be permitted anywhere in the country.

What is there in 'Water' which has so annoyed organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, the Shiv Sena (RSS), and the Bajrang Dal? The theme of the film centres upon the lives of the widows who stay on the roads, temples and ghats (river banks) and who are leading lives little better than beggars. The rightists cannot tolerate the 'great Hindu heritage and culture' being brought to light and so they oppose its filming. It is noticeable that these people do not talk of the defence of 'culture' in general but they organise themselves to defend the most rotten and obsolete parts of this culture while opposing the bright aspects such as tolerance and secularism. They openly declare they will think and view things as their ancestors had done hundreds of years ago in the middle ages. Having become the contractors of culture they openly and unambiguously declare that no one in the entire country will be permitted to think or see beyond that. It is clear that the rightists who are advocating the outdated parts of the culture really wish to enforce an undeclared censorship in the whole country and so wish to impose a fascist regime.

The great Hindu culture is in danger! From where is the danger? It is from the women director Deepa Mehta! And not only the supporters and defenders of the great danger the RSS, the BJP, the Shiv Sena and the Bajrang Dal but also the government machinery where these parties and organisations rule have been mobilised to counter this! Recently the same brave people had defended their culture by burning alive the Christian missionary Graham Staines and his two innocent children. Again the culture was defended by the attacks on Churches in various places. The culture was defended also by the gang rape of nuns in District Jhabua of Madhya Pradesh. Artists such as M.F. Husain and the cartoonist Irfan were assaulted in the name of defending culture.

The issue is not one of the film 'Water', whether its shooting should take place or indeed about the script of the film. The issue is whether the right of the common man to give expression to whatever he deems correct will survive or not, whether a handful of fascist organisations will impose censorship and target particular persons with violence.

The right to expression was an integral part of the freedom struggle and many sacrifices were made to attain this right. Today it is under jeopardy as the rightists proclaim that no one will be able to express anything which will be contrary to their views, they enforce this by burning children alive and targeting artists with violence. The reality of the matter is that anything which throws new light in the field of art, science, history, philosophy, education or which questions the past is being attacked by these fundamentalists. These philistines have declared an open war against new ideas and the new world.

The targets have been selected in an intriguing fashion. The weakest of the weak are being targeted so that the rest of the people are terrorised. These rightists who openly glorify Hitler and Mussolini wish to carry out the policies of fascism in this country. They dream of a world chained by strict censorship, run by dictatorial decrees, where ordinary people will silently implement these. These people find the free circulation of ideas a danger which above all needs to be suppressed. These rightists have the strange belief that if the 'pious system' of today which is steeped to the neck in corruption and the exploitation of the people, is to survive then the expression of the new, democratic ideas is to be controlled. Not only articles and speeches but also those films, painting and art should be banned which, in contrast to the market traditions, centre around ideas. The issue is not restricted to the film 'Water', a particular film or a particular artist but it is a question of countering a well-organised campaign which is aimed at undermining the freedom of expression and which if it is not responded to today it will be too late to counter tomorrow.

Preparations are afoot to dig up the foundations of democratic rights. The most dangerous aspect of the situation is that the governments of the centre and in many states are in the hands of those who are openly siding with the rightist onslaught. There should be no delay in countering the right-wing offensive: it is imperative to work out the methods to counter those who seek to curb the freedom of expression by violence and terror.

Mazdoor Mukti Sangharsh Samiti

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