Released in March 2003, ‘The Da Vinci Code’ by Dan Brown has reportedly sold millions of copies and continues to top the list of books that is most sought after by the general public. Likewise, the book can also be brought online on the World Wide Web at the click of a mouse by anyone having access to the internet. Besides, several people in Nagaland either have the book (essentially a work of fiction) with them or have already read it and many more will continue to buy and read it as they would any other book. Against this backdrop, the decision of the Nagaland cabinet to prohibit Dan Brown’s novel, from being sold, distributed and read in the State is therefore unrealistic, pretentious and void of any meaning. However, without going into the right and wrong of the government decision, now that the ban has been imposed, the order must be enforced in totality or else the decision will be seen as nothing but an eye wash and an attempt at moral posturing and nothing else.
If this government is at all serious of the ban, it needs to do some answering. For instance, what steps has it taken to enforce the ban? Can such a ban be sustained without putting strain on the public exchequer? Is the government prepared to table a report in the State Legislative Assembly explaining in detail to the people on how the ban is being pursued? Since the book will be freely available outside the state, has the government taken steps to disallow/prohibit the entry of the book by setting up vigilance points at Dimapur airport or the railway station and inter-state bus terminus. Further, the government must clarify immediately on how long this ban on the book will continue and whether it has any plans to ban similar books or publication both now and in the near future.
Further, if the government is so much concerned about artistic expressions becoming an affront to the dignity of Christians or is considered a direct assault on the Christian faith, it has much work ahead in the days to come. Leaving aside for now the innumerable areas that will require moral policing, the government should also have at the top of its agenda, a list of books (nine to be precise), which are considered even more offensive and seen as the major sources inspiring The Da Vinci Code in the first place. Even Dan Brown’s web page (www.danbrown.com) lists a partial bibliography for the book, including the nine titles. In fact the idea that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene, which is one of the major points of criticism, was borrowed from the book Holy Blood, Holy Grail, another compelling fiction. Such books are described as works of New Age speculation “that run counter to established history, focus on conspiracy theories, attempt to reinterpret the Christian faith” etc. and which historians and religious scholars do not take seriously.
The Council of Ministers which met under the Chairmanship of the Chief Minister and had decided to prohibit Dan Brown’s novel should meet up once again to ban similar books and decide to enforce the ban in totality or else it should lift the prohibitory order and save itself further embarrassment. As far as the screening of the movie goes, the government should not be actually surprised to know about the kind of movies that are continuously being watched or shown in cinema theatres, dingy parlors or private homes. The Da Vinci Code in comparison will be a much more mind enriching experience. Even then, the film has been given an ‘A’ certificate so that the mature audience can differentiate between fiction and reality. After much wrangling, Sony Pictures India has likewise decided to run the legal card provided by the Censor Board for 15 seconds before and after The Da Vinci Code. It reads: “The characters and incidents portrayed and the names herein are fictitious, and any similarity to the name, character or history of any person is entirely coincidental and unintentional”. As such, the Nagaland government should consider it ‘safe’ enough to now withdraw the advisory issued against screening of the movie and instead give an opportunity to people in the State to be better informed and aware of the issues raised by such theorist. The government at best should condemn and repudiate the book and the movie version. Beyond that, it should not try to dictate.