ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Democratisation of Censorship: Books and the Indian Public

The alarming trend in India today is censorship by the mob, or in other words, the true democratisation of censorship, where it has ceased to be a punitive measure wielded by the government. The trajectory of literary censorship from the days of the British Raj to the present shows that even as the courts have increasingly stood for free expression, the mob demands the suppression of material antithetical to its views. The public outcry over James Laine's book on Shivaji is a case in point.

Censorship in India is part of the embittered legacy that the British bequeathed when they left a fragmented subcontinent in 1947. Faced as it was with the hydra-headed nature of problems peculiar to India, the incoming native government retained most of these bureaucratic and legal systems, along with the laws dealing with free expression. If it was the government that was alert on these matters in the initial days, the task of monitoring art and literature now seems to be a public responsibility. The Indian public is today the judiciary and the executive, demanding suppression of “objectionable” materials, and occasionally even capable of preventing books from reaching the reading public. In this essay, I attempt to trace the trajectory of literary censorship in India from 1947 to the present day, and try to understand this new trend of “public” censorship. The British Raj in India in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was characterised by indecision regarding matters of free expression. As Gerald Barrier (1976:11) notes:

…the bureaucracy had not resolved the inherent ideological tension between theoretical adherence to democratic ideas and ultimate recourse to repression as a means of political survival.

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