Thursday, January 31, 2013

Blame right-wing politics for attacks on our freedom of speech….

Too many incidents have happened of late attacking our freedom of speech and expression – all in the name of defending our religion or our culture. Things have reached a flash point today ….and if we don’t stand up for our rights now, they could be snatched away from us for good. Unsurprisingly, its our right-wing political parties – the entire Sangh parivar including the BJP, the Muslim parties, and the sympathetic allies of these groupings that we have to guard ourselves against….

Consider some recent incidents:

MF Hussain, the world famous “Indian” painter was hounded to no end simply because he sometimes (not always) chose to use nude forms of Indian (read: Hindu) deities in his portraits. In reality, his crime was not that he used these nude forms, for several other painters have also done the same thing. His crime really was that he was a Muslim, and hence his paintings were seen as a kind of an insult to Hinduism. When Hindu chauvinist groups were questioned about their opposition to Hussain, their only defence would typically be “try painting with Muslim motifs and see what happens”. What kind of answer is this? True, the response of the Muslims would be no different. But that does not give us any comfort.

Take Prashant Bhushan’s comments on Kashmir. He was thrashed up right in his own chambers inside court premises. Again, a bunch of people (the ultra-nationalists…..a typical brigade of people who attach to the right wing political outfits) thought he was anti-national because he said something that they didn’t like. And they decided to take the law in their own hands.

Or take this Dhule incident yesterday where some Bajrang Dal and VHP activists went berserk and thrashed a professor for what they believed was his attacks on Hinduism. The TOI reports: The attackers claimed that Pramod Sukhdev Bhumbe had hurt their religious sentiments while delivering a lecture, police said. Bhumbe told TOI  “The students had raised objections to some of my comments on Ramayana while I was delivering a lecture on the social reform movement in India. Although, I did not insult anyone and just narrated the history of casteism, I tendered an apology in order to resolve the issue”.

Or of course the recent AIADMK ban on Vishwaroopam, Kamal Haasan’s film, in which he has dealt with the issue of terrorism. Now whether we like it or not, many (not all) of the recent acts of terrorism have been orchestrated by certain dysfunctional elements of the Islamic world. Making them the setting of a film is but natural. How can one avoid either the topic, or the treatment, if it is such a hot button issue in today’s world?

Or take Salman Rushdie’s and Taslima Nasreen’s mistreatment at the hands of various Muslim organizations. Again, we’ve been small minded, and parochial. 

Or the case of the two girls in Palghar who expressed frustration at the city of Mumbai being shut out of fear when Bal Thackeray died. They were harassed and even the property of a relative of one of the girls was damaged by Shiv Sena goons. But Raj Thackeray was allowed to get away with his fiery speech. 

It’s not as if the average Hindu or Muslim is this fanatical. It’s just that our political class has refused to emerge from the feudal mindset that they have. Justice Markandey Katju recently wrote in an editorial in the TOI: “Democracy is a feature of an industrial, not feudal, society. But the intention of our founding fathers – Pandit Nehru and his colleagues – was that democracy and other modern principles, such as liberty, equality, freedom of speech, freedom of religion, liberty or equality, as well as modern institutions such as Parliament and independent judiciary, etc would pull our backward, feudal society into the modern age”. Obviously, that’s not happened as yet. Our society hasn’t progressed. And our right-wing parties have only become worse.

It’s not acceptable when governments take the excuse of “law and order” when they fail to act to control elements that try to take away our freedom. Jayalalitha said yesterday that her state government did not have the police strength to protect 500 odd cinema screens. What kind of excuse is this? TN is one of the top 5 industrialized states in the country. It is a “wealthy” state in relative terms. And it surely has tens of thousands of cops on its rolls. Are we saying that such a massive force cannot control a few hundred hoodlums who threaten the release of the film? The CM is being too clever by half. Law and Order is the oldest excuse any politician has used to control our voice.

While politicians will do what they have to do, we the people have ourselves to blame as well. We have been inconsistent in our response to such attacks on freedom. When it came to Aseem Trivedi, we protested till sedition charges were dropped. Ditto with the Palghar girls. But we did nothing when Prashant Bhushan was slapped. In fact, when I wrote a post on it, three quarters of the comments I got were happy that he was slapped. Or when Salman Rushdie had to cancel his trip to Kolkata recently (and to Jaipur last year), no one stood up to reassure him. It is this inconsistency of our resistance that politicians exploit.

The real truth is that we have to speak in one voice when our freedom of speech is curtailed. We must protest against the right-wing parties who are most responsible for this. And our media has to support this fight. After all, they are the ones most directly affected….

No comments:

Post a Comment