On Wednesday, the Supreme Court issued such an order which could not only restrict production of creative arts, but also set an unpleasant precedent in the sphere of freedom of expression. The order issued by a division bench of Justices Ishwar Prasad Khatiwada and Bam Kumar Shrestha has asked Sarswati Pratikshya, the author of Nathiya and Bibek Ojha, the author of Ailani, to remove “offending wordings in their works.” This came in response to the application filed by Mina Nepali, who claimed that the plots of the two novels and the movie Pandit Bajeko Lauri hurt the sentiments of Badi community and undermined their social status. Whether these creative works actually undermined dignity of Badi community can be clear only after the court makes public the full text of the verdict and reading both the court verdict and these works between the lines and assessing the context and time in which these works were created. But it is unfortunate for the court to be sounding like dictating authors and movie makers what kind of language they are to use, or even censor. When realm of creativity is put under censor, art, creativity and creations become either too bland or even die. This is a matter of concern for the writers and those engaged with any type of creative works.
This is not to say that a writer or a creative artist can portray a particular community anyway he or she likes. In this particular case, the claim of Mina Nepali was that the books and movie in question did not do justice to Badi community and that they rather portrayed Badis in bad light. It is important that writers do some research so as to avoid possible controversy. But here is the catch. Who determines what is offending and what is not? What may be interpreted as offending by one particular community may be interpreted as freedom of expression by other. At the same time, when communities are perceived through ethnic and caste prisms, even the expressions made with the best of the intentions by some communities might seem like totally biased and prejudiced to other communities. Furthermore, it should be remembered that writers and creative artists assume some degree of poetic license while writing or creating. They may be using certain expressions to capture reality on the ground or to do justice to the context in which this appears.
When an organ of the state—be it judiciary, legislature or the executive—makes a ruling to the authors and script writers to be careful while choosing words in their work in the name of respecting sentiments of any caste, religion or community there is a danger that writers and movie makers will be forced to exercise self-censorship. Of course, the writers must avoid misrepresenting any community in their works, and their works should be based on facts and researches but when the state authority itself tends to dictate what should be said and what should not, it simply does not seem right in a democratic society, at the core of which lies inviolable principle of freedom of expression.