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The IDG is one of the oldest and most respected societies of St. Stephen's College, Delhi. It looks to broaden perspectives by discussing a variety of issues with eminent personalities.

Our talks often throw up some very unexpected answers and, even more often, some very unexpected questions.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Nilanjana Roy on "Free Speech and Censorship in India"


A talk that raised a crop of questions, with answers not seeming as clear-cut as they had once seemed. Where can one draw the line between "harmful" speech (the classic shouting fire in a crowded theater) and permitted speech? Is it important for speech to be free precisely in order that it may be uncomfortable to one? And who gets to decide? And what use is free speech, after all - is free speech valuable in itself or is it means to some end that we consider valuable?
Banned books in India

Censorship laws in India have existed right from colonial times, when the British wanted to ban, say, nationalist tracts. After independence, they were in considerable use - from pamphlets that were considered to inflammatory to a religion, to tracts on Kashmir. Aubrey Menen's Rama Retold and his Ramayana were banned, for their irreverent attitude towards the scriptures. And books that spoke of uncomfortable political truths were banned as well. Perhaps the most significant ban was that of Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses in the 1980s (it is impossible now, to speak of the book on its own merit - one is always contesting the matter of the ban). However, the number of books that have been banned outright at the Centre are relatively small. Unlike the US, India moved away from freedom of expression with its first amendment - and very recently, it has seen its rankings fall drastically in the worldwide scale of countries judged by how free they are - perhaps due to the disturbing increase in censorship, and its twin, surveillance.

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