India’s Moral Terrorist
By Poonam I Kaushish
One man’s food is another man’s poison. A succinct testimony to the ongoing maelstrom over growing intolerance. From love jihad, to anti-Pakistan sports protests to advertisements celebrating India’s pluralism and inclusivity et al. Resulting in nationwide churning, notwithstanding, Prime Minister Modi’s views, “Placing individual ideologies before national good is wrong.”
Last week the ugly face of an intolerant bully India was again on display when three Kashmiri youths were arrested for celebrating Pakistan’s victory over India in the T20 cricket match by UP police. And Chief Minister Yogi attacked Samajwadi’s Akhilesh Yadav for his “Talibani mentality” by comparing Sardar Patel and Jinnah as “India’s freedom struggle icons.”
Madhya Pradesh’s Home Minister Mishra stripped India of open-mindedness, equilibrium and tolerance when he made a consumer goods giant withdraw a Karwa Chauth advertisement celebrating progressive marriage view featuring a lesbian couple. And, a famous designer’s “obscene” Mangalsutra billboard which portrayed a woman wearing a low-neckline dress posing intimately with a man. Big deal if it aimed to talk about empowerment.
A film maker was assaulted during shooting of his web series in Bhopal with Mishra reading the riot act for “hurting Hindu religious sentiments.” A clothing brand was accused of “defacing” Diwali by naming its festive collection Jashn-e-Riwaaz. A jewellery brand was forced to discontinue a commercial which showed a baby shower organised by Muslim in-laws for their Hindu bride.
Predictably, some BJP MPs, Bajrang Dal and Yuva Morcha called these “insults to Hindu culture, Abrahamisation of Hindu festivals” and averred companies must face economic costs for deliberate misadventures. Worse, was social media trolling for “unnecessarily uplifting secularism and Muslim ideologies” claiming it hurt their religious sentiments. Sic.
What our netagan seem to forget is that there is something called Article 19 which states: “All citizens shall have the right (a) to freedom of speech and expression…” Raising a moot point: Is India hurtling towards an era of political intolerance and Hindutva values thrust down our throats? Is the polity afraid of clash of ideas in public life?
Over the past few years there has been an increasing sense that space for liberal discussion is becoming narrower shown by repeated incidents of threats, lynching and banning by self-appointed censors. In 2015, 12 film-makers and 41 novelists, playwrights and poets returned national and Sahitya Akademi awards to protest “growing intolerance” and for remaining silent on murder of well-known rationalists.
Certainly, India’s pluralistic society has seen religious disturbances whereby right forces have overshadowed the idea of a liberal, tolerant society, but never before has anyone felt that the country is treading the dangerous path of religious polarisation as now. A new Hindu assertiveness and so-called cleansing of Western cultural influences is steadily gaining ground, whereby intolerant forces, propped up by leaders are determined to put rationalists and liberals in their place.
Consequently, freedom of speech is under siege forgetting that disparagement too helps enrich discourse. According to last year’s survey 54% youth agreed intolerance amongst young people had increased, but 32% disagreed. In Pew report on Social Hostilities Index of 198 countries India ranks “very high” 8.7 out of 10 along-with Syria, Nigeria and Iraq.
The Supreme Court too expressed anguish over growing bigotry in society wherein organised groups pose serious danger to right to free speech and expression of contrarian views. “The purpose of art is to question and provoke” it added while imposing Rs 20 lakh fine on Mamata’s Government for disallowing screening of a satirical film.
Alas, the political class exploits the common man’s emotions and only looks at what will help popularize it more with its vote bank. The Government appears to be encouraging this by looking the other way, even if this amounts to cultural terrorism and intolerance. The judiciary too is not acting firm.
Look at the dichotomy. Hinduism is the most tolerant religion in the world yet some leaders and rabid elements by their rigidity to social mores, communal hatred, unwillingness or refusal to tolerate or respect people, opinions or beliefs contrary to their own and religion per se portray any criticism as anti-Hindu.
Clearly, the speed with which our tolerance is falling to fragile levels is scary. The Centre and State Governments cannot pass the buck to each other for ongoing madness. Questionably, why are politicians’ discourses becoming more and more venomous and toxic? Are we so paranoid or intolerant that any outpouring is viewed as a threat to Hindu culture or nation? Is the Government, Centre or State crushing free expression?
Have we lost the ability to accept criticism? Bordering on a narcissist phobia? Is it mere coincidence or a sign of an increasingly knee-jerk, reactionary country where one is forced to go public about a frown? Why should a Minister foist his personal views on the citizenry and State? One cannot live life in the slim strip called official wherein every joke, wit, satire, humour or defiance is treated as a monster.
The truth is even as we have achieved political and economic freedom we remain hostage to errant elements of society. “Lopsided economic growth has created a dispossessed population which cannot relate to Western cultural values and norms,” asserted a social scientist.
In a mammoth one billion plus country there would be a billion views and one cannot curtail people’s fundamental rights. It is imperative for the public to decide. We do not need self-appointed guardians to tell us what we can see, read, wear, eat or drink. We should be free to believe what we want, whom and how we should love, worship the way we want.
NaMo needs to tell his Partymen and Ministers specially in BJP ruled States to stop being touchy about everything which they feel goes against ‘society’ norms, is anti-Hindutva and anti-national. India is renowned for its cultural values and long tradition of cultural tolerance. We need to shun our moral terrorists.
India could do without netas who distort politics and in turn destroy democracy and laughter. The polity must realize the ramifications of their actions and think where does India go from here? Our leaders need to heed the democratic strength of a nation is assessed by how its citizens can freely express their thoughts and views despite being caustic to the ruling dispensation or those who are majoritarian. By forbidding, threatening, arresting or slapping charges of sedition against citizens the notion of intolerance has only been strengthened. Criticism of Government is not sedition.
Time to recall Winston Churchill’s words: “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfils the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop.” — INFA