Censorship and Literature: Introductory Responses

Arka Chattopadhyay, Sourit Bhattacharya


The Oxford English Dictionary defines censorship as “the suppression or prohibition of any parts of books, films, news, etc. that are considered obscene, politically unacceptable, or a threat to security.” There is at least a two-fold meaning in this definition: first, certain factors give rise to censorship including obscenity, security, etc., and second, there is a governing body that imposes censorship. It is understandable from this definition that this body may be in most cases an official body, careful of the interests of the nation-state. But then, is this body, although official, free of partial or sectional interests? To rephrase, does censorship carry with it a dominant aspect of the political interests of the ruling party or can it also be effected by the mobilized interest of various groups, sections, and parties? The second body of actors in this case is important as factors that give rise to censorship, such as obscenity or security, are relative in their importance for sections of society. For example, certain scenes in a film, dealing in plain nudity for commercial purposes, or offensive to racial harmony and the freedom of practising sexual orientation, may be retained without even calling for a restrictive certificate, whereas certain scenes in another film, speaking of nudity as part of racial or religious history of a nation, may face the insulting bars of a censor in the name of security and communal harmony. What is censored is usually determined by who wants it and for what purpose. Thus, a discussion of censorship must give space to the question of race, class, caste, and the dominant political interests of a nation. It must also take into account the aspect of group pressure or what is known as the “unofficial ban.”

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