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Unpacking the Taboo

Pamela Philipose

Edited by Raminder Kaur  and William Mazzarella
Routledge, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 243, Rs.695.00


The importance of this book lies in its unpacking the word ‘censorship’, which is commonly understood as the suppression of information, images or any other content, usually by the State or a State institution, on grounds ranging from obscenity to threat to national security. But such a definition, the editors of this volume suggest in their introduction, ’Between Sedition and Seduction: Thinking Censorship in South Asia’, is inadequate for a variety of reasons. For one, censorship according to them, need not only be an act of repression imposed from the outside on the sovereign subject, but could emerge from within that subject itself. For another, censorship can be read not just as a silencing, but ‘as a relentless proliferation of discourses on normative modes of desiring, of acting, of being in the world’. They would also consider the subtle techniques of market forces to influence media subscribers or strategies of social and political activists, like the street rally or gherao, as coming under the rubric of ‘censorship’. For instance, when the Shiv Sena stops the screening of the Deepa Mehta film, Fire, it would, in such a reading, constitute censorship. There is an intriguing intertwining here—of repressive actions that seemingly serve public interest but also serve the interests of publicity—rendering censorship its very opposite. Having problematized the term, the editors seek to ‘resituate’ censorship as a variant of a more general set of practices that they term ‘cultural regulation’. The book is really an examination of ‘cultural regulation’ as it has played out in differing contexts, through different media and at various historical junctures. The title suggests that its scrutiny extends to the whole of South Asia. This is strictly not the case since five out of the seven chapters—apart from the introduction—focus on India. Such asymmetries usually mark volumes that emerge from conferences, such as this one. But this in itself should not detract from the value of a book that sets out to explore relatively new territory, conceptually speaking, and also reflect upon the earliest cultural regulation in the days of that overarching South Asian institution known as the British raj. The opening chapter, ‘Latrogenic Religion And Politics’ by Christopher Pinney, investigates the impact of the colonial censorship of images in colonial India very graphically—literally so, given the rich support from images that the chapter enjoys. The challenge for colonial bureaucrats to control ‘...

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