The Volokh Conspiracy

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Forbidden words in a documentary about Amartya Sen


Vidhi Doshi, here at The Post, reports:

He may have won a Nobel Prize, but renowned Harvard economist Amartya Sen cannot say the word "cow" in a new documentary, India's movie censorship board has ruled.

The documentary, called "The Argumentative Indian," is named after a book of essays written by Sen that dwells (rather ironically) on India's long history of intellectual pluralism and public debate. The movie will not get a license for public screenings in India unless the cuts are implemented.

Censors have not said why the word "cow" is objectionable. The documentary at one point talks about the Hindu nationalist, self-styled cow protectors who attack people, mainly Muslims, for carrying or eating beef. Hindus consider the cow to be sacred.

The move comes against the backdrop of a rising nationalistic fervor in India after the victory of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in 2014. The party has pushed policies in line with its conservative view of Hinduism, the predominant religion in this diverse nation….

It wasn't just cows that caught the censors' attention. [Director Suman] Ghosh was also asked by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) to remove words such as "Gujarat," the name of an Indian state, "Hindu India," and "Hindutva view of India," referring to the nationalist Hindu ideology espoused by the BJP. The filmmakers face a lengthy appeals process through which they will attempt to fight the censorship board's decision.