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Censorship in India

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Title: Censorship in India  
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Censorship in India

In general, censorship in India, which involves the suppression of speech or other public communication, raises issues of freedom of speech, which is nominally protected by the Indian constitution.

The Constitution of India guarantees freedom of expression but places certain restrictions on content, with a view towards maintaining communal and religious harmony, given the history of communal tension in the nation.[1]

According to the Information Technology Rules 2011, objectionable content includes anything that “threatens the unity, integrity, defence, security or sovereignty of India, friendly relations with foreign states or public order".[2] Analysts from Reporters Without Borders rank India 131st in the world in terms in their Press Freedom Index,[3] falling from 80th just 11 years earlier.[4] In 2011, the report Freedom in the World by Freedom House gave India a political rights rating of 2, and a civil liberties rating of 3, earning it the designation of free.[5] The rating scale runs from 1 (most free) to 7 (least free).


Obscenity and sexual content

Watching or possessing pornographic materials is fully legal, however distribution of such materials is banned.[6] The Central Board of Film Certification allows release of certain films with sexually explicit content (labeled A-rated), which are to be shown only in restricted spaces and to be viewed only by people of age 18 and above.[7] Even India's public television broadcaster, Doordarshan, has aired adult films.[8] Films, television shows and music videos are prone to scene cuts or even bans, however if any literature is banned, it is not usually for pornographic reasons. Pornographic magazines are technically illegal, but many softcore Indian publications are available through many news vendors, who often stock them at the bottom of a stack of non-pornographic magazines, and make them available on request. Most non-Indian publications (including Playboy) are usually harder to find, whether softcore or hardcore. Mailing pornographic magazines to India from a country where they are legal is also illegal in India. In practice, the magazines are almost always confiscated by Customs and entered as evidence of law-breaking, which then undergoes detailed scrutiny.

National security

The Official Secrets Act 1923 is used for the protection of official information, mainly related to national security.[9]

Censorship by medium


In 1975, the Indira Gandhi government imposed censorship of press during The Emergency. It was removed at the end of emergency rule in March 1977.[10] On 26 June 1975, the day after the emergency was imposed, the Bombay edition of The Times of India in its obituary column carried an entry that read, "D.E.M O'Cracy beloved husband of T.Ruth, father of L.I.Bertie, brother of Faith, Hope and Justica expired on 26 June".[11]In 1988 ‘defamation bill’ introduced by Rajiv Gandhi but it was later withdrawn due to strong opposition to it .[12]


The Supreme Court while delivering judgement in Sportsworld case in 2014 held that “A picture of a nude/semi-nude woman ... cannot per se be called obscene".[12]


The Central Board of Film Certification, the regulatory film body of India, regularly orders directors to remove anything it deems offensive, including sex, nudity, violence or subjects considered politically subversive.[13]

According to the Supreme Court of India:[14]

In 2002, the film War and Peace, depicting scenes of nuclear testing and the September 11, 2001 attacks, created by Anand Patwardhan, was asked to make 21 cuts before it was allowed to have the certificate for release.[15][16] Patwardhan objected, saying "The cuts that they asked for are so ridiculous that they won't hold up in court" and "But if these cuts do make it, it will be the end of freedom of expression in the Indian media." The court decreed the cuts unconstitutional and the film was shown uncut.

In 2002, the Indian filmmaker and former chief of the country's film censor board, Vijay Anand, kicked up a controversy with a proposal to legalise the exhibition of X-rated films in selected cinemas across the country, saying "Porn is shown everywhere in India clandestinely ... and the best way to fight this onslaught of blue movies is to show them openly in theatres with legally authorised licences".[13] He resigned within a year after taking charge of the censor board after facing widespread criticism of his moves.[17]

In 2003, the Indian Censor Board banned the film Gulabi Aaina (The Pink Mirror), a film on Indian transsexuals produced and directed by Sridhar Rangayan. The censor board cited that the film was "vulgar and offensive". The filmmaker appealed twice again unsuccessfully. The film still remains banned in India, but has screened at numerous festivals all over the world and won awards. The critics have applauded it for its "sensitive and touching portrayal of marginalized community".[18][19][20]

In 2004, the documentary Final Solution, which looks at religious rioting between Hindus and Muslims, was banned.[21][22] The film follows 2002 clashes in the western state of Gujarat, which left more than 1,000 people dead. The censor board justified the ban, saying it was "highly provocative and may trigger off unrest and communal violence". The ban was lifted in October 2004 after a sustained campaign.[23]

In 2006, seven states (Nagaland, Punjab, Goa, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh) have banned the release or exhibition of the Hollywood movie The Da Vinci Code (and also the book),[24] although India's Central Board of Film Certification cleared the film for adult viewing throughout India.[25] However, the respective high courts lifted the ban and the movie was shown in the two states.

In 2009, Kamal Haasan's "Vishwaroopam" was banned from the screening for a period of two weeks in Tamil Nadu.[12]

The Central Board of Film Certification demanded five cuts from the 2011 American film The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because of some scenes containing rape and nudity. The producers and the director David Fincher finally decided not to release the film in India.[26]


Heavy metal band Slayer's 2006 album Christ Illusion was banned in India after Catholic churches in the country took offense to the artwork of the album and a few song titles and launched a protest against it. The album was taken off shelves and the remaining catalog was burnt by EMI Music India.[27]


In 1999, Maharashtra government banned the Marathi play Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy or I Am Nathuram Godse Speaking[28] The Notification was challenged before the Bombay High Court, and the High Court Bench consisting of B. P. Singh (Chief Justice), S. Radhakrishnan, and Dr. D. Y. Chandrachud allowed the writ petition and declared the notification to be ultra vires and illegal, thus rescinding the ban.

In 2004, Eve Ensler's The Vagina Monologues was banned in Chennai. The play however, has played successfully in many other parts of the country since 2003. A Hindi version of the play has been performing since 2007.


In 1961, it was criminalized in India to question the territorial integrity of frontiers of India in a manner which is, or is likely to be, prejudicial to the interests of the safety or security of India.[29]


  • 1989, The import[30] of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses was banned in India for its purported attacks on Islam.[31] India was the second country in the world (after Singapore) to ban the book.
  • 1990, Understanding Islam through Hadis by Ram Swarup was banned.[32] In 1990 the Hindi translation of the book was banned, and in March 1991 the English original became banned as well.[33]
  • The book Shivaji by Queen's University professor Jayant Lele about the 17th century Indian warrior king Shivaji Bhosale was banned because the book raised a question about Shivaji's father.[34]
  • Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India by American scholar James Laine was banned in 2004.[34][35]
  • Laine's translation of the 300-year old poem Sivabharata, entitled The Epic of Shivaji, was banned in January 2006.[34] The ban followed an attack by Sambhaji Brigade activists on the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune. The subsequent governments have not revoked the ban.[36]
  • In Punjab the Bhavsagar Granth (Bhavsagar Samunder Amrit Vani Granth), a 2,704 page religious treatise was banned by the state government in 2001,[37] following clashes between mainstream Sikhs and the apostate Sikh sect that produced it. It was said that the granth had copied a number of portions from the Guru Granth Sahib. In one of the photographs it showed Baba Bhaniara, wearing a shining coat and headdress in a style similar to that made familiar through the popular posters of Guru Gobind Singh, the tenth guru of the Sikhs. In another Baba Bhaniara is shown riding a horse in the manner of Guru Gobind Singh. The ban was lifted in November 2008.[38]
  • The Polyester Prince,[39] a biography of the Indian businessman Dhirubhai Ambani was banned.[40]
  • Importing the book The True Furqan (al-Furqan al-Haqq) by Al Saffee and Al Mahdee into India has been prohibited since September 2005.[41]
  • R.V. Bhasin's Islam - A Concept of Political World Invasion by Muslims was banned in Maharashtra in 2007 during the tenure of Vilasrao Deshmukh (ex Chief Minister, Maharashtra) on grounds that it promotes communal disharmony between Hindus and Muslims.[42][43][44]


The India country report that is included in Freedom House's Freedom on the Net 2011 report, says:[45]

  • India's overall Internet Freedom Status is "Partly Free", unchanged from 2009.
  • India has a score of 36 on a scale from 0 (most free) to 100 (least free), which places India 14 out of the 37 countries worldwide that were included in the 2011 report.
  • India ranks second best out of the nine countries in Asia included in the 2011 report.
  • There is no sustained government policy or strategy to block access to Internet content on a large scale, but measures for removing certain content from the web, sometimes for fear they could incite violence, have become more common.
  • Pressure on private companies to remove information that is perceived to endanger public order or national security has increased since late 2009
  • Internet users have sporadically faced prosecution for online postings, and private companies hosting the content are obliged by law to hand over user information to the authorities.
  • Both bloggers and moderators can face libel suits and even criminal prosecution for comments posted by other users on their websites.

India is classified as engaged in "selective" Internet filtering in the conflict/security and Internet tools areas and as showing "no evidence" of filtering in the political and social areas by the OpenNet Initiative in May 2007.[46] ONI states that:

As a stable democracy with strong protections for press freedom, India’s experiments with Internet filtering have been brought into the fold of public discourse. The selective censorship of Web sites and blogs since 2003, made even more disjointed by the non-uniform responses of Internet service providers (ISPs), has inspired a clamor of opposition. Clearly government regulation and implementation of filtering are still evolving. … Amidst widespread speculation in the media and blogosphere about the state of filtering in India, the sites actually blocked indicate that while the filtering system in place yields inconsistent results, it nevertheless continues to be aligned with and driven by government efforts. Government attempts at filtering have not been entirely effective, as blocked content has quickly migrated to other Web sites and users have found ways to circumvent filtering. The government has also been criticized for a poor understanding of the technical feasibility of censorship and for haphazardly choosing which Web sites to block. The amended IT Act, absolving intermediaries from being responsible for third-party created content, could signal stronger government monitoring in the future.[46]

A "Transparency Report" from Google indicates that the Government of India initiated 67 content removal requests between July and December 2010.[47]

See also


  1. ^ "The Constitution of India" 658.79 KiB PDF, India Code. Retrieved 3 June 2006.
  2. ^ "Uncle dictates, cyber boys dispose - Sibal to work on norms for social sites". The Telegraph (Calcutta, India). 7 December 2011. 
  3. ^ "Press Freedom Index 2011/2012".  
  4. ^ "Press Freedom Index 2010".  
  5. ^ Freedom in the World 2011: Selected Data from Freedom House's Annual Survey of Political Rights and Civil Liberties, Freedom House, January 2011, retrieved 21 May 2011
  6. ^ Rajak, Brajesh (2011). Pornography Laws: XXX Must not be Tolerated (paperback ed.). Delhi: Universal Law Co. p. 61.  
  7. ^ Viju B; Bharati Dubey (2009-12-31). "Family entertainment? B-town flicks now open to adults only".  
  8. ^ Sinhā, Niroja (1989). Women and Violence. New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House. p. 97. ISBN 0706942736. OCLC 19812282. "Assuming that late night programme telecast would be restricted to adults, Doordarshan started showing adult films in recent past on TV."
  9. ^ "The Official Secrets Act, 1923", Retrieved 4 June 2006
  10. ^ The Emergency, Censorship, and the Press in India, 1975-77, Soli J. Sorabjee, Central News Agency, 1977. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  11. ^ Austin, Granville (1999). Working a democratic constitution: the Indian experience. Oxford University Press. p. 295.  
  12. ^ a b c A.S. Panneerselvan (17 February 2014). "Process as punishment".  
  13. ^ a b "India's film censor wants to legalise porn", BBC News, 27 June 2002. Retrieved 29 May 2006.
  14. ^ "Background". Central Board of Film Certification. Retrieved 9 January 2012. 
  15. ^ "India cuts 'anti-war' film", BBC News, 19 August 2002. Retrieved 29 May 2006.
  16. ^ "Censorship and Indian Cinema", Shammi Nanda, Bright Lights Film Journal, Issue 38 (November 2002). Retrieved 29 May 2006.
  17. ^ "BIndia's chief film censor quits", BBC News, 22 July 2004. Retrieved 29 May 2006.
  18. ^ "UK premiere for Indian drag film", Neil Smith, BBC News, 6 May 2004. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  19. ^ "Making the Cuts—On Film Censorship in India", Shradha Sukumaran, YAMAGATA Documentary Film (YIDFF), 10 October 2003. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  20. ^ "Banned, banned and banned again!", Carmen de Monteflores, Queer India, 19 May 2006. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  21. ^ "India bans religious riot movie", BBC News, 6 August 2004. Retrieved 29 May 2006.
  22. ^ "Censor Board Bans 'Final Solution'", Kalpana Sharma,, 6 August 2004. Retrieved 29 May 2006.
  23. ^ ""Final Solution", Rakesh Sharma (director), 2004. Retrieved 16 June 2007.
  24. ^ "India extends Da Vinci Code ban", BBC News, 3 June 2006. Retrieved 3 June 2006.
  25. ^ "India censors clear Da Vinci Code", BBC News, 18 May 2006. Retrieved 29 May 2006.
  26. ^ Ramachandran, Naman (27 January 2012). "Sony cancels 'Dragon Tattoo's' Indian release".  
  27. ^ Offensive' album pulled in India"'". BBC. October 11, 2006. Retrieved November 8, 2011. 
  28. ^ "Gandhi play banned".  
  29. ^ The Criminal Law Amendment Act, 1961,
  30. ^ Manoj Mitta (25 January 2012). "Reading ‘Satanic Verses' legal". The Times Of India. Retrieved 24 October 2013. 
  31. ^ "Rushdie 'hurt' by India ban ", BBC News, 10 October 1998. Retrieved 29 May 2006.
  32. ^ "Publish and be banned", The Telegraph (Calcutta), 18 July 2010. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  33. ^ "Top 10 Books those Banned in India", Hindustan Today. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  34. ^ a b c "Hypocrisy in the guise of freedom of expression", M. Zajam, TwoCircles, 28 May 2010. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  35. ^ "The Laine Controversy and the Study of Hinduism", Christian Lee Novetzki, International Journal of Hindu Studies (World Heritage Press), Volume 8, Issue 1-3 (2004), pages 183-201, ISSN 1022-4556, DOI 10.1007/s11407-004-0008-9. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  36. ^ "History epic on Shivaji banned in India", Basharat Peer, Dawn, 22 January 2006. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  37. ^ "Caste and Religion in Punjab". Economic and Political Weekly. 26 May 2007. Retrieved 5 October 2008.  (subscription required)
  38. ^ A godman and a political storm", Praveen Swami, Frontline (published by The Hindu), Volume 18, Issue 22 (October/November 2001). Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  39. ^ The Polyester Prince: The Rise of Dhirubhai Ambani, Hamish McDonald, Allen & Unwin, 1998, 273 pages, ISBN 1-86448-468-3.
  40. ^ "Ban the Ban: The republic of India bans books with a depressing frequency", Rramachandra Guha, The Telegraph (Calcutta), 30 July 2011. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  41. ^ "Notification No. 78 /2005-Customs (N.T.)", Anupam Prakash, Under Secretary to the Government of India, 7 September 2005. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  42. ^ "Book on Islam banned, author's house raided in Mumbai", Hindu Janajagruti Samiti, 7 April 2007. Retrieved on 9 May 2010.
  43. ^ Criminal Application No.1421 of 2007. The High Court of Judicature at Bombay. 6 January 2010. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  44. ^ Islam, a concept of political world invasion by Muslims, R.V. Bhasin, National Publications (Mumbai), 166 pages, 2003. Retrieved 24 October 2013.
  45. ^ "India Country Report", Freedom on the Net 2011, Freedom House
  46. ^ a b "ONI Country Profile: India", OpenNet Initiative, 9 May 2007
  47. ^ India asked Google to block content critical of government The Hindu - June 29, 2011

External links

  • , by Koenraad ElstBan this book
  • Koenraad Elst - Book banning
  • Censorship in India - IFEX
  • The Expressionist: Tracking the moral police in India
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