Hurt and Censorship in India Today : On communities of Sentiments, Competing Vulnerabilities and Cultural Wars Mobilizing Emotions in South Asian Politics (International Conference)

Intervenant : Laetitia Zecchini

EHESS, salles 638-641
190 avenue de France
Paris 13

This paper examines the entanglement of the rhetoric of censorship with the language and performance of emotions, and analyses the recourse to the vocabulary of ‘hurt’ or ‘injury’ in practices of cultural regulation in India today. If the work of artists and writers are increasingly targeted in the name of the ‘hurt sentiments’ of certain publics and communities, artists and writers can also stage their struggle against intimidation and censorship in those terms, and may construct themselves as a ‘community of sentiment’. The debate, then, partly misses the point if it is framed in terms of ‘freedom of expression’ versus ‘hurt sentiments’. By looking closely at the discourses mobilised around the M. F. Husain controversy (‘Is He an Artist or a Butcher ?’) and mobilised by the Delhi-based collective of artists, SAHMAT, I will see how these competing claims to hurt are articulated and examine the ways by which agency can be derived from injury. If ‘hurt sentiments’ become foundational attributes of collectives, how are these sentiments publically mobilized, dramatized and allocated in the political and in the cultural spheres ? What does it mean, in the Indian context, to say that words can wound or that works of art hurt feelings and offend sensibilities ? And what finally, to paraphrase Judith Butler, can be made of hurt besides a cry for war ?

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