Kolkata: Minister of State for Human Resource Development Shashi Tharoor said he was worried that segments of society claimed the "right to be offended" and pointed out that the expression of heretical views was often necessary for an "evolution of culture".
"This is an era when segments of society claim the right to be offended and... it is for the rest of us to pay attention to their sense of offence. This cuts across political lines, state governments and central government, and is a nationwide phenomenon," Tharoor said at the Kolkata Literary Meet on Friday, when asked to comment on the 'Vishwaroopam' controversy. "As a writer, I have to say that one great trend of our civilisation has been the ability to watch culture evolve through the expression of heretical views," said the diplomat-turned-politician.
While stressing on the state or central government's duty to uphold the law and the constitution, he expressed apprehension that "the intolerant behaviour of certain groups" could undermine the work done by statutory bodies like the censor board.
"If the law, for example, provides for a censor board to decide whether a film offends certain social sensibilities, whether it must be cut, and so on, and then the censor board issues a certificate for the film to be released... it worries me that it can then be second-guessed by the intolerant behaviour of certain groups."
Tharoor said he would prefer the government to be on the side of creative freedom, though in most cases over the last 10-15 years it has played safe politically, "going on the side of those who claim to be offended".
"There is a real problem there. On the one hand, if you are worried that a particular thing legally published or filmed or screened is going to incite a particular group to violence, then isn't that group itself in the wrong to threaten violence... which is against the law?" "Shouldn't the government be defending those people and act against those who incite violence?" he asked.
However, Tharoor then turned to practical questions referring to the statement from Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalitha pointing out that it was impossible for the police force to protect every theatre in the state that screened 'Vishwaroopam'. "So all these calculations... it is not so simple. There is an obligation to uphold law and the constitution, and there is an obligation to maintain law and order," Tharoor said.
"We live in a society where such things have happened in the past, and where protests on various issues have escalated into violence and loss of life. So you can't entirely blame the government, police and law and order machinery for being conscious of these dangers as well," he said.
The Tamil-Telugu film 'Vishwaroopam' of Kamal Hassan was banned in Tamil Nadu last month for 15 days after 24 Muslim groups objected to certain scenes of the film, claiming they were derogatory to their community. Subsequently, Kamal Haasan, who also stars in the lead role, agreed to make some cuts. Talks between his representatives and Muslim outfits have taken place in Chennai.
The film has also been banned in Qatar, the UAE, Malaysia, Singapore and Sri Lanka. But it has released in the US and Canada. 'Vishwaroop', the Hindi version of the film, was released across India on Friday.