Kamal Hassan’s movie Viswaroopam stands banned in Tamil Nadu by the government for fears that the film ‘could disturb communal harmony.’ Call it ‘cultural terrorism’ or threat to ‘freedom of expression’ but we are seeing an incredibly sensitive India.
When Bal Thackeray, who orchestrated many a communal violence in Mumbai died, he was given a hero’s funeral.There were calls for massive ‘bandh’ (shut down) and when Shaheen Dhada, questioned, “With all respect, every day, thousands of people die, but still the world moves on,” she was arrested along with her friend who liked the Facebook status for allegedly “promoting enmity between classes”.
If you followed news in recent times, you won’t be surprised. A condition of ‘thin skin’ among us, Indians caused by, agencies responsible for the depleting sense of humor. Today, anything you say can be branded as ‘hate speech’ with police complaint. In fact, now is the time to be a lawyer in India, unsure of what Ashis Nandy said or didn’t say? Go Protest!
According to Census 2011, half of Indian population doesn’t have access to toilets. But when, Jairam Ramesh, the then Rural Development minister, stated that ‘India needs more toilets than temples’, he was retorted with protests, especially from BJP. A month before that, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested on charges of sedition, allegedly, as his banners were “mocking the constitution”.
However, though Raj Thackeray repeatedly taunts North Indians, especially laborers from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, working in Maharashtra, branding them as infiltrators, no one raises a voice. Here he is in direct violation of the Indian constitution which provides equal rights to all its citizens, albeit on paper!
Aseem Trivedi and Jairam Ramesh are in august company and the future prospects seem bright too. Even Arundhati Roy spent a day in prison for contempt of court in 2002, with charges of sedition in 2010 for what was dubbed as an ‘anti-India’ speech. Charges of sedition sound unanswerable, dangerous and high-brow. But consider this: According to Tehelka, 8, 000 cases of sedition were registered on people protesting against a nuclear plant in a village in southern India.
I am all for the well-being of laws, including the ones on sedition and religious freedom. I never write lines such as ‘the constitution is not biased’ or ‘Religion is for the imbeciles’, knowing well it could put me in prison. I’ll never compare toilets to religious places, however indistinguishable they may be. Even if my freedom of speech is under threat, I’ll be silent knowing that nothing can compensate for the absence of a sense of humor. Unlike Aseem and Arundhati, I’ve realized early that in my country, the knob of the humor window is perpetually locked. Well, if people don’t get the humor in cartoons, how would they in words?
It won’t surprise me if all writers and artists in India are booked on charges of ‘causing harm’ to the country. Since writing against corruption and politicians, by questioning everything that has to be questioned, they do precisely that!
I am not in a paroxysm of overreach. Ask Sonntag Rainer Hermann, the poor German tourist was deported for allegedly funding the anti-nuclear protests at Koodankulam. How fast the police and the politicians moved. Meanwhile, the witch-hunt on the poor fishermen of Koodankulam continues. If only they could show some of that haste in governing the country.
Ask Salman Rushdie too. The writer, who himself is averse to critics, was prevented from attending the Jaipur Literature festival, last year and was in news this year too. Jay Leno’s quip on the Golden temple created a furor; he would have thanked his stars for not living in India.
Not long ago, the film Aarakshan was banned in several states, the celebrated artist M.F. Husian died in exile and the pantheons of intolerance only extend. Why, for hurting ‘the sentiments’ of some sections of the public! (The Supreme Court used same quote to rap a civil activist when he was observed as ‘fraud’)
We are so funny we can’t even laugh at ourselves. We rise in impromptu protest when a version of the Bhagavad Gita tethers on the brink of a ban in Russia but don’t think twice to ban an essay on Ramayana from universities on the pretext of its ‘hurtful’ sentiments. Such convenient double standards and God knows he should stand up for himself/herself.
It’s really laughable that with a population of a billion plus, an enviable diversity with myriad races, there’d always be a section of society susceptible to hurt by any action. A little anecdote: during my brief stay in college, a professor felt hurt when a student replied ‘yea’ instead of the standard ‘yes’. I can say a ‘hi’ and hurt the sentiments of twenty people.
Is patriotism confined to token respect of the flag and constitution? Ironic that we Indians can’t tolerate comedy or dissent, while comfortably getting used to banning anything that does not ‘conform’. Soon we’ll have novels where all the characters are diplomatic and use only ‘good’ words; where artist will paint landscapes with disclaimer on the presence of any hidden innuendoes; there’ll be a paucity of jokes, as the nature of humour is such that ‘laughed at’ jokes can hurt.
It’s hard to understand why it doesn’t offend our senses when: people displaced by dams protest standing in water for weeks; we continue to elect corrupt politicians to office; people insouciantly defecate in the public; scandals like 2G scams and Coalgate break out every day; the army marauds tribals for fighting for their land.
We really are funny people in a funny nation.