top of page
  • Ananya Pathak


Ananya Pathak

Institute of Law, Jiwaji University, Gwalior (M.P.)

  • Abstract:                

This article delves into the multifaceted landscape of censorship in India, examining its historical roots, legal frameworks, and contemporary implications. Exploring the delicate balance between freedom of expression and cultural sensitivities, it scrutinizes the role of governmental bodies, societal norms, and digital platforms in shaping the censorship discourse. The study also highlights case studies, shedding light on the challenges faced by artists, journalists and citizens in navigating the intricate web of restrictions. By unraveling the nuances of censorship, this article aims to contribute to a nuanced understanding of its impact on democratic ideals and the evolving media landscape in India.

  • Introduction:

Censorship can be defined as the intentional suppression or control of objectionable or offensive information, ideas or artistic expression. It plays a crucial role in preserving India’s diverse cultural tapestry while navigating global communication. The legal framework in India is a dynamic amalgamation of constitutional provisions, statutory laws, and regulatory apparatus. The Constitution of India enshrines the fundamental right of freedom of expression, while specific laws like Cinematograph Act, 1952, Information Technology Act, 2000 and Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, 1995 define the contours of censorship.

Regulatory bodies like the Central Board of Film Certification, Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, and Press Council of India play a pivotal role in interpreting and implementing censorship laws.  

  • Historical Perspective:

Censorship in India has its roots in the colonial era, where British authorities implemented strict control over communication channels to maintain their rule. The Vernacular Press Act of 1878 set a precedent for state intervention in matters of expression, laying the foundation for the evolving landscape of censorship in independent India. The Emergency Era (1975-1977) marked a significant chapter in India’s history, with the suspension of fundamental rights, including the right to freedom of expression, and the imposition of censorship across media platforms. Post-emergency liberalization saw the judiciary play a crucial role in upholding constitutional principles of free expression, with landmarks legal cases like K.A. Abbas v. Union of India[i] (1971) and Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India[ii] (1978) emphasizing the need for reasonable restrictions in line with constitutional principles.

Technological advancements in the last 20th and early 21st centuries have transformed the dynamics of censorship, with the Information Technology Act of 2000 addressing issues related to online content. Artistic expression in India has been particularly susceptible to censorship, with controversies surrounding films, literature, and art projects.

  • Legal framework for Censorship:

  1. Constitution of India and Freedom of Expression: The Constitution of India, adopted in 1950, guarantees the Fundamental right to Freedom under Article 19(1) (a). However, this right is not absolute and is subject to reasonable restrictions outlined in Article 19(2). These restrictions encompass concerns related to sovereignty, integrity of India, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order, decency and morality. The constitutional framework establishes the foundational principles that guide the legal interpretation of censorship in the country.

  • Statutory Laws Regulating Censorship:

  1. Cinematograph Act (1952): The Cinematograph Act provides the legal framework for the certification and regulation of films in India. The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC), established under this act, is entrusted with the responsibility of certifying films for public exhibition. The act empowers the CBFC to make modifications or refuse certification based on concerns related to national security, public order, decency or morality. Over the years, The Cinematograph Act has been a focal point for debates on artistic freedom and censorship.

  2. Information Technology Act (2000): As technology became integral to communication, the Information Technology Act was enacted to address issues related to electronic content and online communication. Section 69A of the IT Act grants the government the power to issue directions for blocking public access to online content in the interest of sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of the country, security of the state, and prevention of incitement to the commission of any cognizable offense.

  3. Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act (1995): Focusing on television content, this act empowers the central government to regulate cable television networks. It provides the government with the authority to prohibit the transmission of certain channels if it deems it necessary or expedient in the interest of the sovereignty, integrity and security of India.

  • Role of Regulatory Bodies:

  1. Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC): Operating under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, the CBFC plays a pivotal role in the film certification process. It classifies films under various categories, including ‘U’ (Universal), ‘A’ (Adult) and ‘UA’ (Unrestricted public exhibition subject to parental guidance), based on the content and context. The CBFC’s decisions often become focal points for discussions on censorship, artistic expressions and societal norms.

  2. Ministry of Information and Broadcasting: As the overarching authority in matters of media and communication, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting formulates policies and guidelines that shape the regulatory landscape. Its role in balancing freedom of expression with societal values is crucial in setting the tone for censorship across different media platforms.

  3. Press Council of India: while not directly involved in pre-publication censorship, the Press Council of India acts as a self-regulatory body for the print media it aims to preserve the freedom of the press and maintain high standards of public taste and foster a sense of responsibility among newspapers and journalists.

  • Constitutional Dimensions:

  1. Balancing Freedom of Expression and Reasonable Restrictions: The Constitution of India, while championing the right to freedom of expression as a fundamental right, acknowledges the necessity for reasonable restrictions to prevent abuse and protect broader societal interests. The delicate balance between these two imperatives forms a constitutional dimension crucial to understanding the intricacies of censorship. Article 19(2) delineates specific grounds justifying restrictions, such as threats to sovereignty, integrity and public order, emphasizing the constitutional mandate to ensure responsible exercise of free expression.

·       Landmark Legal Cases Shaping Constitutional Discourse on Censorship:

  1. K.A. Abbas v. Union of India (1971)[iii]: In this decision, which marked a turning point in constitutional doctrine, the Supreme Court emphasized the need to preserve the integrity of the film industry while preserving the state’s authority to impose reasonable limits on free expression. The ruling emphasized the necessity of exercising censorship within legitimate limitations, supporting artistic freedom but taking into account the sensibilities of society.

  2. Maneka Gandhi v. Union of India (1978)[iv]: the Supreme Court broadened the definition of Article 21 (right to life and personal liberty) to encompass the freedom of speech and expression in this historic decision. The ruling stressed that every policy or rule that restricts an individual’s freedom of speech must pass the fairness and reasonableness criteria, therefore upholding the right to free speech guaranteed by the constitution.

Censorship in Different Media:

  1. Print Media: In India, print media censorship has typically focused on ethical standards and self-regulation. In its capacity as a quasi-judicial authority, The Press Council of India hears complaints against print media and encourages ethical reporting. Nonetheless, discussions on the thin line separating press freedom from responsible reporting have been spurred by cases of government interference and legal challenges. The constitutional dimension comes into play as the judiciary often weighs the need for censorship against the right to free expression. 

  2. Broadcast Media: Television and radio, governed by the Cable Television Networks (Regulation) Act, have been subject to content regulations to ensure adherence to cultural norms and societal sensitivities. The Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC) extends its role to television, certifying programs and ensuring they align with established guidelines. The constitutional scrutiny in this realm involves balancing the right to broadcast diverse perspectives with the need to prevent content that may incite violence or disrupt public order.

  3. Digital Media and Online Content: The advent of the internet has ushered in a new era of challenges for censorship. The Information Technology Act (2000) provides the legal framework for regulating online content, allowing the government to block access to certain websites or platforms on grounds of national security or public order. The lack of a comprehensive regulatory framework for digital media has led to debates on the need for updated legislation that aligns with constitutional principles and addresses emerging challenges.  

Challenges to Freedom of Expression:

  1. Ambiguity in legal provisions: One of the foremost challenges to freedom of expression in India lies in the ambiguity present within legal provisions governing censorship. The broad and sometimes subjective language in statutes such as The Information Technology Act can lead to inconsistent interpretation and application. This ambiguity allows for discretionary powers that, when exercised without clear guidelines, can result in overreach and stifling of legitimate expression.

  2. Arbitrary Decision-Making by Regulatory Bodies: The decisions made by regulatory bodies, notably the CBFC and the Ministry of Information and broadcasting, are often criticized for being arbitrary. Instances where film or content face censorship without transparent justifications raise concerns about the subjective nature of decision-making. Lack of uniformity and procedural opacity contribute to challenges in upholding the principles of fairness and due process.

  3. Impact on Artistic Freedom and Creative Expression: Artistic Expression, particularly in the realms of cinema, literature, and visual arts, frequently faces challenges from censorship. The tension between preserving cultural values and allowing creative freedom is palpable.

Case Studies:

  1. The Padmavat Controversy (2018): The release of the film “Padmavat” faced vehement protests and legal challenges, particularly from certain factions claiming historical inaccuracies and cultural insensitivities. Despite receiving certificate from CBFC, the film encountered bans in several states, highlighting the clash between artistic expression and perceived threats to cultural sentiments.

  2. Internet shutdowns and Social Media Bans: Instances of internet shutdowns and social media bans often employed during periods of civil unrest or for national security reasons, raise concerns about the impact on freedom of expression. Examining specific cases, such as the shutdown in Jammu and Kashmir in 2019, provides insight into the tension between security imperatives and the right to freely express and access information online.

  3. Perumal Murugan and the Limits of Artistic Freedom: the case of Perumal Murugan, a Tamil writer who faced backlash and self-imposed exile following protests against his novel “Madhorubhagan”, illustrates the challenges writer face in navigating cultural sensitivities.

  4. Online Content Regulation and Social Media Platforms: The evolving landscape of online content regulation involves notable cases, such as the Indian government’s call for social media platforms to comply with new IT rules in 2021. Examining the responses of platforms like Twitter and Facebook to content removal requests sheds light on the complexities of balancing global standards, local laws, and freedom of expression on digital platforms.

  5. The Sedition Law and Journalistic Freedom: The use of the sedition law to curb dissent and restrict journalistic freedom is exemplified in cases like that of Kanhaiya Kumar, a student leader charged with sedition. Analyzing the impact of such legal measures on journalistic practices and the broader implications for freedom of expression provides insights into the challenges faced by media professionals.

  6. Navigating LGBTQ+ Representation: The representation of LGBTQ+ content in Indian cinema, particularly in films like “Aligarh” and “Fire”, has encountered censorship challenges. Exploring how these cases unfold within the cinematic landscape illuminates the struggle for inclusivity and the impact of censorship or fostering diverse narratives that reflect the societal fabric.


The exploration of censorship in India is a complex and evolving issue, influenced by constitutional principles, legal frameworks, and societal norms. The Constitution of India guides the nation’s approach to free expression, but upholding these principles in a diverse society is a complex task. Case studies highlight the real-world impact of censorship on various forms of expression, such as the Padmavat controversy and online content regulation. The article highlights the need for ongoing reflection, adaptability, and a commitment to preserving democracy’s core tenets.  


1. “Censorship Regime in India” (Drishti IAS)

3. “Backstory: Censorship Comes in All Shades and Sizes in India” (The Wire)


[i] K. A. Abbas vs The Union of India & Anr 1971 AIR 481, 1971 SCR (2) 446

[ii] Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India 1978 AIR 597, 1978 SCR (2) 621

[iii] See supra note 1

[iv] See supra note 2


bottom of page