Excerpts of an interview that I gave to a New Delhi-based journalist recently :
Q: Do you think self-censorship is because of fear or because of the growth of an artist?
A: I think, in many cases, if not all, it is because of the growth of an artist. A stage comes in his/her professional life when he/she can make a distinction between right and wrong. When I say wrong, it may not be wrong as such but distribution of which will do harm than any good to people, the society and, on larger scale, the humanity.
Q: Is self-censorship good for an artist? How?
A: I’m a professional journalist. As such I would never like to write anything that would set out a riot. I’m just giving you an example; that in the sub-continental context. But I personally believe that on the issues where you need to educate people or change a mindset such as on Kashmir a journalist must put things on paper or report about them as they are. Nothing should be suppressed in the name of national interest. Worse is when some of us try to hide things from our readers, listeners or viewers because of personal likes or dislikes and even on the basis of one’s own political or religious beliefs. I’m saying that because I’ve seen it happening around. And that is criminal. It can’t be called self-censorship as the doers wish to believe it is.
Q: Do you think if you perform your art freely, government or groups will find it controversial?
A: Yes, in certain cases. Precisely, when it hurts or is seen as being harmful to someone’s interests; collective or individual. It becomes controversial mainly when it clashes with your political views; tells the people that you are wrong what you believe in or are doing. During the heyday of insurgency in Kashmir, I would be openly accused by the government, the security forces of being hand in glove with militants. On the other hand, various militant outfits would complain my reports don’t tell the truth fully, am not giving due coverage to what they are doing or may have done, etc. Then a stage came when all parties to the dispute began calling me biased in favour of their rivals. Why? Because I was trying to perform my art freely.
Q: How has censorship changed you?
A: It has not changed me as such but made me professionally more mature and more responsible.
Q: Have there been instances where you have self-censored your work?
A: Yes, there have been such instances there. In most of these it was rather being responsible. When Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated I received a phone call and the caller introduced himself as spokesperson of a Kashmiri militant outfit and claimed they had killed Rajiv Gandhi. I entered into an argument with the caller, asked him to establish his identity-that he was a genuine guy authorized to speak for that particular organisation. He failed to given convincing answers to the questions I asked him. Yet the story would have made headline on international level. Those days, I was working also for an international news agency. But I knew what it would mean for Kashmiris living or working in various parts of India if I only say that someone who claimed to be speaking on behalf of a Kashmiri militant outfit admitted to killing Rajiv Gandhi. I knew what had happened to Sikhs in Delhi and some other parts of India following Prime Minister Indira Gandhi was murdered by her Sikh bodyguards. I decided not to report what the caller had said and prepared myself to face the outfit’s ire. Later I learnt he was a fake guy. Now imagine what would have been the purpose of or motive behind his telling me what he actually said.
Q: Do you think it necessary?
A: Yes. It becomes necessary when something very critical is involved. I gave you instances why.
Q: Is absolute writing freedom possible? Where do you draw the line?
A: It is possible provided you are also ready to face the consequences. I won’t say where do I draw the line but my experience is in Indian media is; many editors and owners have drawn a line-a sort of Lakshman Rekha-on issues and regions such as Kashmir which they hardly do cross.
Q: How important is the right to offend to a literary culture. Is it necessary?
A: I don’t think I will be able to answer this question. That because it depends on the kind of situation you are caught in as an artist. You cross the bridge when you actually come to it.