Cinema halls across the country have been banned from screening Hindi movies (despite facing a loss of Rs 2.5 million per day) because Hindi movies apparently “undermine Nepali culture and are disrespecting to the Nepali people,” as claimed by the Mohan Baidya-led CPN-Maoist.
According to CPN-Maoist, it has taken this step to “preserve the national image.” The party, which is so concerned about preserving national image, should also ideally be concerned about promoting other areas of national interest, including the rule of law. Thus, it becomes necessary to analyze whether this act of protest by the CPN-Maoist is legally justifiable or not.
The fundamental rights enshrined in the Interim Constitution of Nepal, 2007 in Article 12(2), Right to Freedom, guarantees that: “Except as provided by law no person shall be deprived of his/her personal liberty.” Evaluating from this perspective, the current step by CPN-Maoist is not just a protest but is a complete deprivation of people’s right to entertainment, which is an important component of personal liberty.
Meanwhile, we also have Article 15, Rights regarding Publication, Broadcasting and Press, as a fundamental right. This Article is against imposing censorship on any news item, editorial, article, feature or other reading or audio-visual material by any means including electronic publication, broadcasting and the press. By violating the fundamental rights, CPN-Maoist has not just ‘censored’ but has in fact enacted a complete ban on Hindi audio-visual material which was being screened in Nepal legally.
However, at this point, the CPN-Maoist may put forth one argument. Article 15 regarding freedom of press and other forms of publication also states that the “state can impose reasonable restrictions on any act which may undermine the sovereignty or integrity of Nepal, or which may jeopardize the harmonious relations subsisting among the people of various communities; or any act which may be contrary to decent public behavior or morality.”
But CPN-Maoist, by no means, is the authority or has the jurisdiction to impose any restriction on Hindi movies. If the party wants the state to impose restrictions on Hindi cinema, then it should follow the judicial path by filing a case. The court (based on facts) can then decide whether Hindi movies contain ‘anti-Nepali sentiments’ and if they should be banned or if any censorship is required. Justice is not what a party decides. Court is the authority to ensure justice. This is how we preserve the aspiration of ‘rule of law’ in a democratic country.
Not only this, Article 35(2) of Interim Constitution talks about state policies to pursue economic development through governmental, co-operative and private sector. Also, the state shall, for the purpose of national development, give priority to national investment. Thus, the screening of Hindi movies can be analyzed as a part of state policy to encourage national economic development. It is supported by the fact that the ban on Hindi movies has inflicted a daily average loss of over Rs 2 million on cinema halls across the country. Ultimately, it is a loss for the national economy.
Similarly, there exists another ‘code of conduct’ to inspect the restrictions on Hindi movies from a legal perspective. It is the Comprehensive Peace Accord concluded between the government of Nepal and the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). Though CPN-Maoist has officially split from the main Maoist party, it would probably agree with those democratic norms of the agreement which was signed in 2006 with the approval of Mohan Baidya.
The preamble of the agreement explicitly talks about upholding democracy, peace, prosperity, progressive socio-economic change and freedom and keeping the integrity, sovereignty and dignity of the country at the centre. No political party or group of any ideology can disregard such democratic norms.
Taking this into consideration, the question is whether the CPN-Maoist is against democracy and its norms because such a reckless ban on Hindi cinema shows the party is against ‘progressive socio-economic change’, which is an important requisite of democracy in modern times.
Hence, the ban on Hindi movies is by no means justifiable on legal grounds. The act is particularly questionable because the party has not come forward with substantial facts and or evidence for imposing this ban.
There is no doubt that a few Hindi movies have portrayed Nepalis in a derogatory manner in which they are shown as servants. All this undoubtedly makes every Nepali feel humiliated. But a random and blanket ban on movies cannot be the solution (especially from economic point of view) and censorship could be a better alternative. In fact, such a reckless ban will deprive the Nepali audience of even those movies with great messages like Taare Zammen Par and 3 Idiots.
Moreover, a group of few people have absolutely no right to decide the choice of entertainment for me, for us, and the whole nation. It is not about only Hindi movies but about a larger issue of rights and privileges; the concern is that a group has no right to infringe upon the rights of other citizens, especially not in a democratic country where every individual is free and sovereign