Play on Gandhi’s assassin raises questions on freedom of expression

The scene of Gandhi’s assassiantion on January 30,1948. The assassin, Nathuram Godse is being restrained in the background.

Play on Gandhi’s assassin raises questions on freedom of expression

The Indian Constitution envisages the right to freedom of expression under Article 19. A Marathi play ‘Hey Ram Nathuram’ was staged on January 22 in Nagpur, Maharashtra. The venue of play witnessed protests by the Congress and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), calling for a ban on the play. The play in question is an attempt by artists to offer a view of why Nathuram took the extreme step of assassinating a national figure. A few years ago, a similar attempt at presenting Nathuram’s viewpoint in another play, ‘Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy’, was banned after it saw huge protests from all quarters of society. The opposition to such plays is also because Godse identified himself with the ultra-national outfit Hindu Mahasabha. The outfit believes in a one religion-one nation idea.

The question of freedom of expression was also in the news recently but in a very different context. Film maker Sanjay Leela Bhansali was manhandled because an organisation thought he was misrepresenting ‘their’ history. This episode frayed tempers on both sides of the debate. Some people supporting Bhansali’s creative freedom to make a film based on history. Others believed that some historical figure cannot be depicted under garb of creative freedom.
In the present issue, there are two pertinent points. Firstly, should art forms on such sensitive issues be banned? Secondly, is banning not restricting artists’ freedom of expression?

PaGaLGuY spoke to Tushar Gandhi, great-grandson of Mahatma Gandhi, to understand what he thinks of a play which tells Nathuram’s story, at one level jusitifying his actions. About freedom of expression, Gandhi said, “I have always stood against the philosophy of banning. I think it is oppressive and against our constitutional guarantee of freedom of speech and opinion.” Speaking on Godse (Mahatma Gandhi’s assassin) in particular, Gandhi said, “Even when a motivated campaign of lies is being run to justify the murder of Bapu, the answer is not in banning or stifling their right to expression.” Gandhi added, “The way to counter it is to carry out an equally loud and forceful campaign of truth, even if it means disrupting the performance of the play in a peaceful nonviolent manner because the right to protest is also as important as the right to opinion.”
Concluding the issue, Gandhi said, “The fanatical fringe is implementing a violent campaign of oppression to curtail the creative spirit. It is, as such, time that people from the liberal spectrum stand up in defiance of these lunatics who are hijacking our society and culture.”

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