Saffron Censorship: India's Culture Wars

Dr Zareer Masani asks if religious fanaticism, moral policing and state censorship are threatening freedom of expression and cultural life in the world's largest democracy.

Is India at a major cultural crossroads? Its Constitution states that the country is a secular democracy. Recent events, since last year's election of a Hindu nationalist government, suggest the reality may be different, and changing fast.

The BBC broadcasts a film about India's most notorious case of gang rape. The Government gets a court order banning it. 'PK', a Bollywood comedy, sends up bogus Indian holy men. Cinemas showing the film are trashed. A scholar publishes a history that notes the importance of sexuality to Hinduism. A lawsuit puts a stop to it. School textbooks are being changed to teach Hindu mythology as historical fact. Churches and Christian schools are attacked. Muslim men are accused of 'love jihad', luring Hindu women into marriage and conversion to Islam. A Muslim newspaper editor is in hiding, in fear of her life from extremists in her own community. The criminality of homosexuality is upheld by India's Supreme Court. A list of phrases and words forbidden in films is announced - including the word 'Bombay', the old name for Mumbai that is still commonly used. Opening a new hospital, the recently elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, hails the Hindu elephant-headed god, Ganesh, as proof of ancient Hindu expertise as plastic surgeons - and he's in earnest.

In 'Saffron Censorship: India's Culture Wars', Dr Zareer Masani talks to artists, film-makers, scholars, politicians and the man who brought the law suit against that history book, to find out whether growing religious zealotry, moral policing and state censorship are threatening freedom of expression and cultural pluralism in the world's largest democracy.

Producer: Julian May.

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28 minutes

Last on

Mon 30 Mar 2015 16:00

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Historian Romila Thapar talks to Zareer

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Film director Onir who made the first film in India featuring homesexual characters

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History students of several different faiths at St.Xavier's College

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The Indo-Saracenic architecture of St. Xavier's College, Mumbai

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