"Three Hundred Rāmāyaṇas" and Article 19 of the Indian Constitution

As of recently, the Oxford University Press has released a statement regarding three works of A. K. Ramanujan, including The Collected Essays and Many Rāmāyaṇas, both of which contain the essay in question, "Three Hundred Rāmāyaṇas". In the statement they express that these work will continue to be printed and made available and that the UOP ensures the dissemination of scholarly material freely. The UOP in India has chosen to uphold the freedom of expression detailed in their constitution, found in Article 19, over the decision to censor a piece of scholarly material. Article 19(2) of the Indian Constitution, however, holds the rights of the collective society over that of the individual, but this portion of the constitution is certainly muddied and contains no clear right and wrong when it comes to one’s freedom of expression. I would argue that nobody has a definitive grasp on what will be good for society as a whole, as most of these opinions are formed in hindsight. Censoring "Three Hundred Rāmāyaṇas" is like stampeding out of a public place claiming that a person had yelled “Fire!”, even though nobody had. Regardless of the work in question, one group will applaud while another group will condemn, and while conservative Hindus condemn the "Three Hundred Rāmāyaṇas" as offensive, scholars across the world applaud the work as a deep look into the life that a story takes as it molds into different cultures across the world. Ritvik Chaturvedi beautifully writes in one of India’s most prestigious newspapers, The Hindu, “Will we give the next generation the chance to think independently, or will they be the recipients of restricted and censored education.”[1]

Whether something is considered right or wrong, the fact that A. K. Ramanujan took to the countryside to look at how the story of Ram, Sita, Luksmana, Hannuman, and Ravena has taken a life of it’s own within other cultures is simply that, a fact. Many people refuse to consider facts especially when their personal beliefs don’t necessarily coincide with those facts; however, in the world of academia, where many people are spending countless hours learning about the human condition and our place in the world, all things need to be considered, and although these things may cause certain groups of people to feel offended there is certainly no need to obliterate them from the face of the earth. Freedom of expression certainly has its limits, but on the other hand the freedom of those in power to censor delicate materials also have to consider whether or not they are pursuing the good of collective society or fulfilling their own desires. Either way, like in the case here, collective society will voice whether or not the powers in charge are doing something right or wrong, and the petition by scholars across the world is a perfect example of how censorship has no role in the world of academia. People may claim that a certain piece of art, literature, or an academic essay is the equivalent of yelling “Fire!” in a crowded ballet hall, but usually what they don’t know is that the crowded ballet hall is full of fire fighters in full gear and uniform, they just didn’t see it. A8



[1] http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/letters/article2543658.ece
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