Forget cuss-words, CBFC says Amartya Sen can’t say ‘cow’ in a documentary

The CBFC said that a documentary on Amartya Sen must beep out words including ‘cow’ and ‘Gujarat’ to be passed with a U/A certificate.
Forget cuss-words, CBFC says Amartya Sen can’t say ‘cow’ in a documentary
Forget cuss-words, CBFC says Amartya Sen can’t say ‘cow’ in a documentary
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The Central Board of Film Certification has outdone itself again.

After targeting films for ‘glorifying gay relationships’, saying the word "intercourse" or having “lady-oriented” content, the CBFC has said that renowned economist Amartya Sen cannot say words and phrases like “cow” and “Gujarat” in a documentary.

Economist Suman Ghosh was told by the CBFC on Tuesday that his documentary on Amartya Sen, The Argumentative Indian, can only be released with a U/A certificate if words and phrases like “cow”, “Gujarat”, “Hindu India” and “Hindutva view of India” are beeped out, reported The Telegraph.

In the film, the word Gujarat comes up in the context of a lecture at Cornell University, where Sen said, “Why democracy works so well is that the government is not free to have its own stupidities, and in case of Gujarat its own criminalities, without the Opposition being howled down and booted out.”

At a different point in the film, Sen reportedly says, “There was a kind of grandness of vision there, and an integrated picture which hangs together in trying to embrace each other, not through chastising people for having mistreated a cow or some other thing, but dealing with people in terms of argument."

Speaking to NDTV, Ghosh said that the board had watched the hour-long film for three hours, before demanding these cuts. "The film was my comment on India. I feel disheartened because I wanted to convey certain thoughts and they are trying to stifle it," he said.

"I have heard that these things are going on. Now I have a taste of this first-hand... I honestly never thought there might be objections to a documentary," Ghosh added.

Amartya Sen told NDTV that he was open to discussing the issue with the government, and did not want to comment since he was only the subject of the film and not its maker. “If the government has any reservations, there can be dialogue. It won't be befitting for me to make any comments on this," he said.

The Telegraph, on the other hand, quoted Amartya Sen as saying that he was under systematic attack for his views: “Whenever I try to take this rather grand view of India, which is not the banal Hindutva view of India, whenever I make a statement, I know the next morning I will get 800 attacks on social media of four different kinds.... I can see there is an organised attack (by a particular political group)... Now the main thing is not to be deterred by it."

While the CBFC has often come under criticism in the past, the current board under Chairman Pahlaj Nihalani has been repeatedly called out for the extent of its intervention. The censorship demands it has placed on films like Udta Punjab or Jab Harry Met Sejal, and its refusal to give certificates to films like Ka Bodyscapes  and Lipstick Under My Burkha have all come under heavy criticism for stifling the freedom of speech and expression.

Alankrita Shrivastava, director of Lipstick Under my Burkha, recently said that the CBFC’s interventionist policy often leads writers and directors to self-censorship, as they tend to abandon ideas and projects because the CBFC might reject them.

"In cinema and on television, we continue to self-censor, even before the film actually goes up for certification. If you have sat around writers and directors, you will know that common refrain, 'Arre, the censors won't pass it. Forget about that idea. This is India'."

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