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India: Writer challenges police censorship in court

25 April 2012

Writer N. V. Sankaran – also known as Gnani – has taken the ‘procedural practice’ of submitting threatre scripts to police for prior approval to be tried at the Madras High Court.

This was reported by Times of India

Unlike other states in India, theatre groups in Tamil Nadu must submit a copy of the script for any theatre play to the Police at least seven days prior to the performance. Failing to adhere to rule can result in a prison term of up to three months or a fine, or both.

According to Gnani, the Tamil Nadu Dramatic Performances Act of 1954 is a relic of a pre-Constitution enactment by the British who wanted to muzzle the Independence movement. The writer explained that it should have no place in a sovereign democracy like India.

Though the Act does not demand submission of every script of a play, the commissioner’s office has applied this as a blanket requirement irrespective of the play’s potential to cause a breach of peace, Gnani said.

Justice K. Chandru, before whom the writ petition came up for hearing, asked the advocate-general of Tamil Nadu to submit his response, as the matter pertains to legislation, and posted the matter to 6 June 2012 for further hearing.

Lack of artistic sensibility
“The censoring is done by someone of the rank of an inspector who has no artistic or literary skills to judge a script,” said Gnani. “Vesting such discretion in the hands of the commissioner of police, who, with great respect, has neither artistic nor aesthetic sensibility to judge whether a play is objectionable is perilous.”

The police are applying the ‘pre-censor’ power even to plays in open spaces such as parks and beach as well as street theatre, Gnani said: “Street theatre throughout the world is known to be a spontaneous and improvised form performed without a prior script,” he said. “It is impossible to write a prior script for street theatre. This is similar to asking a political leader to submit a written speech before he delivers every speech.”

The Times of India – 23 April 2012:
Stop police censorship of plays, writer appeals to high court

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