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Chipping Away at the Freedom Of Expression – One Word At A Time

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Chipping Away at the Freedom Of Expression – One Word At A Time

Mihir Joshi, a singer in Mumbai, finds that he cannot use Bombay for Mumbai on TV and for no apparent reason. He shares his confusion and concern.

 

Mumbai Blues, Mihir Joshi’s album, was launched on May 31, 2014. Along with his album, the video of the first song, “Sorry”, was also released on YouTube.

 

Joshi penned this song in the aftermath of the Delhi gang rape. The song is an apology from a father to his daughter for the world he is giving her, one where crimes against women are rampant. The song features the word “Bombay” in the second verse where it rhymes with the word “today”.

 

Times Music, the album’s label wanted to release the video on television and had applied for the required certification from the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). The song was given cleared to air only after Bombay was muted from it. In the video, the name is replaced with a bleep and blurred in the accompanying subtitle.

 


The name Mumbai is derived from Mumba or Maha-Amba – the name of the Koli goddess Mumbadevi – and Aai, “mother” in Marathi, the official language of Maharashtra. The city came to be known as Bombay  from  the 17th century when the  British ruled.

 

It was in 1995, nearly three hundred years later when the right-wing Hindu nationalist party Shiv Sena won the elections in Maharashtra. The coalition government it formed argued that “Bombay” was a corrupted English version of “Mumbai” and an unwanted legacy of the British colonial rule. Subsequently, the city’s name was officially changed to Mumbai in November, 1995. Federal agencies, local businesses, and newspapers were ordered to adopt the change.

 

The Bombay High Court, the Bombay Stock Exchange and The Bombay Times are examples of institutions that still carry the old name. While some citizens still continue to refer to it as Bombay, the use of the old anglacised name has often led to political controversy.

 

Where are we heading to? Where will the insanity end? If today, they can censor the word Bombay, you don’t know what the next thing they will think is not right for you to say. It could be another harmless word.

 

The Censor Board’s decision was criticized heavily on social media but the board’s newly-appointed chief, Pahlaj Nihalani, said he stood by the decision, which was made by his predecessor, Leela Samson.

 

“Given the past controversy over the use of Bombay in films, this was avoidable,” Mr. Nihalani told The Hindu. “There are some elements who make deliberate attempts to create controversy by using Bombay, keeping in mind future prospects.”

 

Nihalani himself was at the centre of a recent controversy for his comments which urged filmamkers to avoid controversial subjects for their movies. He was appointed after Samson resigned, citing coercion and corruption in the Board as reasons. Nihalani and the other new members on the board openly wear their saffron allegiance on their sleeves.

 

“The message of the song is much more important to me. The usage of the word ‘Bombay’ in my song wasn’t in a political sense.  It was completely incidental. I want to know why it is wrong to use it,” Joshi said. The Censor Board has not given any grounds for their decision and Joshi is still confused as to why this word was muted from his song.

 

“Where are we heading to? Where will the insanity end? If today, they can censor the word Bombay, you don’t know what the next thing they will think is not right for you to say. It could be another harmless word,” he remarked.

 

Given the timing, this incident just confirms what many believe is an extremely challenging time for the freedom of intellectual and creative expression. It becomes another example of both state and non-state actors putting curbs on free expression for the most trivial reasons.

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