Culture of Protests
By Poonam I Kaushish
How hypocritical is Mera Bharat Mahan. In a week when India celebrated its 68th Republic Day drumbeating Unity in Diversity and on a day we remember the apostle of peace Mahatma Gandhi, conflict of interests are masquerading as a contest of principles and intolerance and violence is increasingly becoming the rhetoric of the times. Welcome the Ugly Intolerant Indian!
Witness the spree of violent protests, torching buses, pelting stones, burning posters and vandalizing property which surfaced in Rajasthan, UP, MP, Gujarat, Haryana, Goa and Jammu against the release of movie Padmaavat. Underscoring the discourse is not only becoming increasingly rabble rousing, abusive and devoid of any substance but also tilted towards widening the caste divide.
The film’s release has been caught in the middle of a controversy after right-wing groups protested against it alleging historical inaccuracies, showing the Queen in bad light and defaming Rajputs. A classic case of “ideological intolerance” by fringe Hindutva brigands led by the Rajput Karni Sena which delayed its certification and exhibition.
Forcing the Supreme Court’s intervention which refused to entertain fallacious pleas against its release by Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat citing law and order problem and risk to public peace by setting aside the States notifications banning the film’s exhibition.
Said the Court, “Creative freedom, freedom of speech and expression can’t be guillotined… artistic freedom is sacrosanct, it should not be ordinarily interfered with and has to be protected. By that token 60% of classical literature cannot be read.” Blistering comments which strip India of all balance and open-mindedness.
Raising a moot point: What is about the film that it needs to be banned? How does exercising one’s freedom of ingenuity and expression tantamount to distorting history and spreading “hatred”? Are the Hindutva fringe elements crushing free expression, suppressing debate and dissent which are essential pre-requisites of creative and thinking minds?
Pertinently, the film has been mired in controversy over the last six months resulting in the Censor Board appointing a panel of historians to look into the claim that the film contained historical inaccuracies. It was finally cleared with a few changes on the condition that the title be changed from Padmavati to Padmaavat to align it closer to its source material, 16th century poem by Malik Muhammad Jaisi.
Questionably, should the Supreme Court be entertaining and pontificating on frivolous pleas like a Bollywood movie’s release? Aren’t there more pressing issues awaiting redress? Constitutional matters, laws, crime etc? As it stands over 13 lakhs cases are pending in various courts across the country.
True it is the State’s duty and obligation to maintain law and order, but not direct its entire police force to ensure theatres where the movie is being screened are not vandalized? Isn’t protecting citizens from crime, rape and violence more vital?
Obversely, how does exercising one’s freedom of expression tantamount to distorting history? Why are we so intolerant? Have we lost the ability to accept criticism? Bordering on a narcissist phobia? Are we so paranoid that any act of laughter, joke, film or perceived bigotry is viewed as twisting facts?
Importantly, are threats, fear and coercion the new grammar of Naya Bharat’s political ecosystem? Is it a coincidence that violence erupted only in BJP-ruled States? Is the Party and its Hindutva brigade allergic and fanatical about what they perceive as correct history and abhorrent about a contrary view? Is it afraid of a clash of ideas in our public life?
Certainly, this is not the first time that noises have been made by narrow sectarian groups. Many movies have been attacked for hurting sentiments of particular ethnic groups or castes, religious communities by protesters who seem to appear out of nowhere. Often accusations are off-the-mark, downright absurd or an attempt to squeeze money from the film company.
In this all pervasive decadence, interspersed with growing public cynicism there seems nothing to cry a halt to this depravation. Specially against the backdrop of State Governments abdicating their duty of maintain law and order, instead being silent bystanders. Given that our polity who are sultans of the swing in sentiments mull over what would politically earn them brownie points. Here, the feelings of the Rajput community living in their States. Be it the BJP, Congress and Left who revel in joining any controversial melee.
Obviously, with elections to Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh slated this year it suits the Government to pander to their caste vote banks. For radical outfits popular movies are like marketing balloons, to which they cling, flying to the heights of undeserved and short-lived fame. Till now nobody had heard of the Karni Rajput Sena.
Undoubtedly, cut-throat casteism is at work. Whereby, these rabid outfits with the backing of our netas have made castes the tour de force of politics. With every leader propounding his self-serving recipe of ‘caste’ harmony: To keep gullible vote-banks emotionally charged so that their ulterior motives are served. Never mind, the nation is getting sucked into the vortex of centrifugal bickerings.
Totalling cultural terrorism. Recall, Tamil Nadu banned noted actor-director Kamal Hasan’s 100 crores magna opus Viswaroopam which dealt with terrorism on the fallacious ground it would hurt the sentiments of ‘unknown’ Muslim groups and could create a law and order problem. And the Shiv Sena forced cancellation of Pakistani Ghazal singer Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai and its cadres disrupted a BCCI meeting for reviving Indi-Pak cricket ties.
Clearly, India is in the grip of self-styled chauvinism and cultural dogmas wherein films, writers, intellectuals, historians or hoi polloi are soft targets with imprudent reactions taking over debates and calibrated decisions. Life is lived in the slim strip called the official and every joke, wit, satire or defiance treated as a monster. Big deal if this makes public discourse impoverished and toothless.
As blinkered, dogma-ridden debates rage on it marks a dangerous political trend of intolerance vis-à-vis freedom of expression and personal choices. If this trend goes unchecked society will get dangerously dogmatic and fragmented. Simultaneously, our polity with politics and polls only on their agenda must desist from playing with fire and instigate their vote bank.
Alongside, communities have to more broad minded and open to contrary opinion. The BJP must rein in its ‘fringe’ elements who feel emboldened with a majority Government at the Centre. Our leaders need to remember India was conceived as a democratic rather than majoritarian country wherein all citizens have certain basic rights.
The message has to go out clearly that no person or group can threaten violence, and if they do, they lose their democratic right to be heard. India could do without those who distort politics and in turn destroy democracy and laughter. It’s time to control the hate mongers who are aiding divisions among people on creed lines and blunt them. Moreover, they are antithetical to hope of narrowing India’s burgeoning caste-religious divide, thereby unleashing a Frankenstein.
In sum, our netas and their affiliates will probably win the electoral battle but they need to pause and look at the ashes of history they leave in the wake of their siege post Padmaavat. Undeniably, those who reduce discourse to such low depths only do so at the cost of exposing their lack of civility to the electorate and nation at large leaving India dangerously intolerant and violence-prone. What gives? —- INFA