Girish Mahajan (Editor)

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 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. 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".

In 2017, the Freedom in the World report by Freedom House gave India a freedom rating of 2.5, a civil liberties rating of 3, and a political rights rating of 2, earning it the designation of free. The rating scale runs from 1 (most free) to 7 (least free). Analysts from Reporters Without Borders rank India 133rd in the world in their 2016 Press Freedom Index, In 2016, the report Freedom of the Press by Freedom House gave India a press freedom rating of "Partly Free", with a Press Freedom Score of 41 (0-100 scale, lower is better).


Watching or possessing pornographic materials is apparently legal, however distribution of such materials is strictly banned. The Central Board of Film Certification allows release of certain films with sexual content (labelled A-rated), which are to be shown only in restricted spaces and to be viewed only by people of age 18 and above. India's public television broadcaster, Doordarshan, has aired these films at late-night timeslots. 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.


The Indian Press currently enjoys extensive freedom. The Freedom Of Speech, mandated by the constitution guarantees and safeguards the freedom of press. However, the freedom of press was not always as robust as today. 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. 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". In 1988 ‘defamation bill’ introduced by Rajiv Gandhi but it was later withdrawn due to strong opposition to it .

On 2 October 2016 (see: 2016 Kashmir unrest) the Srinagar-based Kashmiri newspaper, Kashmir Reader was asked to stop production by the Jammu and Kashmir government. The ban order, issued by the Deputy Commissioner of Srinagar Farooq Ahmad Lone cited that the reason for this was that the newspaper contains “material and content which tends to incite acts of violence and disturb public peace and tranquility” The ban came after weeks of unrest in the Kashmir valley, following the killing of the militant Burhan Wani. Journalists have decried this as a clampdown on freedom of expression and democracy in Kashmir, as a part of the massive media censorship of the unrest undertaken by the central government. Working journalists protested the ban by marching to the Directorate of Information and Public Relations while the Kashmir Editors Guild(KEG) held an emergency meeting in Srinagar, thereafter asking the government to revoke the ban immediately, and asking for the intervention of the Press Council of India. The move has been criticised by a variety of individuals, academic and civil groups in Kashmir and international rights groups, such as Jammu and Kashmir Coalition of Civil Society(JKCCS), Kashmir Economic Alliance(KEA), the Kashmir Center for Social and Developmental Studies(KCSDS) and Amnesty International, among others. Most of the major Kashmiri dailies have also rallied behind the KR, while claiming that the move represented a political vendetta against the newspaper for reporting events in the unrest as they happened on the ground. Hurriyat leaders, known to champion the cause of Kashmiri independence, also recorded their protests against the banning of the newspaper. Amnesty International released a statement saying that "the government has a duty to respect the freedom of the press, and the right of people to receive information," while criticising the government for shutting down a newspaper for opposing it. The journalists associated with the paper allege that, contrary to the claims of the J&K government, they had not been issued a notice or warning, and had been asked to stop production suddenly, which was only one manifestation of the wider media gag on Kashmir. Previously, the state government had banned newspapers for a few days in July, calling the move a “temporary measure to address an extra-ordinary situation”, only to deflect the blame onto the police upon facing tremendous backlash, and thereafter asking the presses to resume publication. As of October 5, 2016, the ban has not been revoked and local journalists continue to protest against what they see as a breach of the freedom of the press and freedom of speech in Kashmir, with no official meeting forthcoming with government functionaries.


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".


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.

According to the Supreme Court of India:

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. 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". He resigned within a year after taking charge of the censor board after facing widespread criticism of his moves.

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 marginalised community".

In 2004, the documentary Final Solution, which looks at religious rioting between Hindus and Muslims, was banned. 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.

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), although India's Central Board of Film Certification cleared the film for adult viewing throughout India. However, the respective high courts lifted the ban and the movie was shown in the two states.

In 2013, Kamal Haasan's "Vishwaroopam" was banned from the screening for a period of two weeks in Tamil Nadu.

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.

In 2015, the Central Board of Film Certification demanded four cuts (three visual and one audio) from the art-house Malayalam feature film Chaayam Poosiya Veedu (The Painted House) directed by brothers Santosh Babusenan and Satish Babusenan because the film contained scenes where the female lead was shown in the nude. The directors refused to make any changes whatsoever to the film and hence the film was denied a certificate.

In 2016, the film Udta Punjab, produced by Anurag Kashyap and Ekta Kapoor among others, ran into trouble with the Central Board of Film Certification, resulting in a very public re-examination of the ethics of film censorship in India. The film, which depicted a structural drug problem in the state of Punjab, used a lot of expletives and showed scenes of drug use. The CBFC, on 9 June 2016, released a list of 94 cuts and 13 pointers, including the deletion of names of cities in Punjab. On 13 June 2016, Udta Punjab was cleared by the Bombay High Court with one cut and disclaimers. The court ruled that, contrary to the claims of the CBFC, the film was not out to "malign" the state of Punjab, and that it “wants to save people” Thereafter, the film was faced with further controversy when a print of it was leaked online on a torrent site. The quality of the copy, along with the fact that there was supposedly a watermark that said "censor" on top of the screen, raised suspicions that the board itself had leaked the copy to spite the filmmakers. It also contained the only scene that had been cut according to the High Court order. While the censor board claimed innocence, the lingering suspicions resulted in a tense release, with the filmmakers and countless freedom of expression advocates taking to social media to appeal to the public to watch the film in theatres, as a conscious challenge against excessive censorship on art in India. Kashyap himself asked viewers to wait till the film released before they downloaded it for free, stating that he didn't have a problem with illegal downloads, an unusual thing for a film producer to say. The film eventually released and grossed over $13 million finishing as a commercial success.


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.


In 1999, Maharashtra government banned the Marathi play Me Nathuram Godse Boltoy or I, Nathuram Godse, Am Speaking 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 criminalised 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.


  • 1989, The import of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses was banned in India for its purported attacks on Islam. India was the second country in the world (after Singapore) to ban the book.
  • 1990, Understanding Islam through Hadis by Ram Swarup was banned. In 1990 the Hindi translation of the book was banned, and in March 1991 the English original became banned as well.
  • 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.
  • Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India by American scholar James Laine was banned in 2004.
  • Laine's translation of the 300-year-old poem Sivabharata, entitled The Epic of Shivaji, was banned in January 2006. 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.
  • In Punjab the Bhavsagar Granth (Bhavsagar Samunder Amrit Vani Granth), a 2,704 page religious treatise was banned by the state government in 2001, 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.
  • The Polyester Prince, a biography of the Indian businessman Dhirubhai Ambani was banned.
  • Importing the book The True Furqan (al-Furqan al-Haqq) by Al Saffee and Al Mahdee into India has been prohibited since September 2005.
  • 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.
  • Internet

    Freedom House's Freedom on the Net 2015 report gives India a Freedom on the Net Status of "Partly Free" with a rating of 40 (scale from 0 to 100, lower is better). Its Obstacles to Access was rated 12 (0-25 scale), Limits on Content was rated 10 (0-35 scale) and Violations of User Rights was rated 18 (0-40 scale). India was ranked 29th out of the 65 countries included in the 2015 report.

    The India country report that is included in the Freedom on the Net 2012 report, says:

  • India's overall Internet Freedom Status is "Partly Free", unchanged from 2009.
  • India has a score of 39 on a scale from 0 (most free) to 100 (least free), which places India 20 out of the 47 countries worldwide that were included in the 2012 report. India ranked 14 out of 37 countries in the 2011 report.
  • India ranks third out of the eleven countries in Asia included in the 2012 report.
  • Prior to 2008, censorship of Internet content by the Indian government was relatively rare and sporadic.
  • Following the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which killed 171 people, the Indian Parliament passed amendments to the Information Technology Act (ITA) that expanded the government's censorship and monitoring capabilities.
  • While there is no sustained government policy or strategy to block access to Internet content on a large scale, 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, with the implementation of the amended ITA. Companies are required to have designated employees to receive government blocking requests, and assigns up to seven years' imprisonment private service providers—including ISPs, search engines, and cybercafes—that do not comply with the government's blocking requests.
  • 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.
  • In 2009, the Supreme Court ruled that bloggers and moderators can face libel suits and even criminal prosecution for comments posted on their websites.
  • Prior judicial approval for communications interception is not required and both central and state governments have the power to issue directives on interception, monitoring, and decryption. All licensed ISPs are obliged by law to sign an agreement that allows Indian government authorities to access user data.
  • 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. 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 clamour 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 criticised 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.

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


    Censorship in India Wikipedia

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