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India’s Outrage Industry: OUCH! WE ARE TOUCHY, By Poonam I Kaushish, 14 June, 2016 Print E-mail

Political Diary

New Delhi, 14 June, 2016

India’s Outrage Industry


By Poonam I Kaushish


George Bernard Shaw famously said, “Censorships exist to prevent anyone from challenging current conceptions and existing institutions”. An apt adage amidst the swirling controversy raging over Bollywood film Udata Punjab which bares the brutal reality of the drug menace in the State.


Obviously, the Central Board of Film Certification or Censor Board feels by ordering 13 cuts including the word Punjab as “it affects the State’s sovereignty”, sic,  the problem will go away. It’s called being patriotic!


Failing to realize it has cut its nose to spite its face. The issue is not whether the Bombay High Court strikes down the Board’s order and bats for the film makers but that India is earning the ignominy of being a paradise for those who take offence. Thanks to its flourishing outrage industry.


At a drop of a hat X,Y,Z or the Government is offended by a film, book, joke, wit, satire, humour or defiance is treated as a monster and banned. Never mind if this makes public discourse impoverished and toothless. Whereby, life is lived in the slim strip called the official.


In recent times India has had a surfeit of censorship. Many films, artworks even cartoons which pokes fun or is not in sync with our leaders thinking, cause and outlook is not only banned, vandalized but worse every view is considered corrupting the mind and an act of sedition.


Innumerable artists, writers, film makers or officials have faced taboo, been given a mouthful, barred and forced out in a country which prides it self for being the birthplace of so many apostles of peace and non-violence ---- Gandhi, Buddha and Mahavir.


If one doesn’t like a film just collect a crowd and burn the theaters where it is shown. If you don’t like a novelist’s book get the Government to ban it or issue a fatwa against the author.


Tamil Nadu banned noted actor-director Kamal Hasan’s 100 crore magna opus Viswaroopam which deals with the issue of terrorism in 2013 on the fallacious that it would hurt the sentiments of ‘unknown’ Muslim groups and create a law and order problem.


West Bengal’s maverick Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee banned celebrated novelist Salman Rushdie from coming to Kolkata to promote a film based on his book 'Midnight's Children', ostensibly, for security reasons. He flew back to London disgusted.


The Rajasthan Government registered an FIR under the SC/ST Atrocities Act against famed sociologist Ashis Nandy for his controversial remarks on SC/ST corruption at the Jaipur Literature Festival three years ago. Said he, “It is a fact that most of the corrupt come from OBCs and SCs and now increasingly the STs”. Predictably, livid Dalit icons BSP’s Mayawati and LJP's Ram Vilas Paswan forced Nandy to approach the Supreme Court which stayed his arrest.


What to speak of innocuous cartoonist Assem Trivedi who was arrested for sedition by Mamata in Kolkata for publishing a series of cartoons highlighting corruption in India. He was later freed under a wave of protest. Before him another of his tribe famed Shankar cartoons of Ambedkar in NCERT school books were posthumously removed. Notwithstanding if India's first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, called sedition laws “objectionable and obnoxious”.


There is no gainsaying it is not only the Government but also our self-styled police, public at large and petty minded orgainsations who have usurped the moral right to decide what is good for society. Of course, with the powers-that-be backing them to the hilt surreptitiously. 


Last year in Kashmir the separatist issued a Fatwa against an all-girls rock band saying it was Un-Islamic while the VHP protested against women modelling dresses bearing images of Hindu Gods. And its women's wing, the Durga Vahini harassed women who were smoking and drinking in a restaurant in Mangalore recently.


Notably, this once again raises the ante on Article 19(1) (a) which grants a citizen the right to freedom of expression. Raising a moot point: Is India amidst an era of cultural intolerance? Is the polity afraid of the brutal reality being in full public glare? A clash of ideas in our public life?


Over the years censorship is a weapon in the hands of the State to make people agree with its ideology. Often the Censor Board functions to impose the State's notion of ‘Indianness’ and nationhood. As the reach and power of films in India is massive, the Government makes it its business that people see what it wants them to see.


Forgetting, that anyone with internet access can see endless amounts of pornography all it takes is typing three letters “sex”, while the Censor Board has long discussions on the permissible duration of a kissing scene in a movie. Again in the film Do Laphzoon Ki Kahani it has asked the producers to restrict the kissing scenes from 18 to 9 seconds!


I am not saying that we should legalize pornography, but in today’s age the Government and its minions have to understand that this generation exercises their right to freedom of speech and expression.


True, Governments across the globe have used religion, violence and other powerful techniques to support their censorship efforts. But what is offensive varies from country to country, religion to religion, even sect to sect. Notwithstanding many countries provide certain protection against censorship.


Clearly, in a milieu of competitive democracy, the tragedy of it all is that the political class exploits the common man’s emotions and only looks at what will help popularize it more with its vote bank. Even if its amounts to heading towards an era of intolerance and cultural terrorism.


Shockingly, the culture of taking offence has acquired an epidemic proportion, and we are moving in a direction where nothing, it seems, is a safe topic. How else does one explain the Maharashtra’s Shiv Sena forcing cancellation of Pakistani Ghazal singer Ghulam Ali’s concert in Mumbai and disrupting a meeting for revival of Indi-Pak cricket ties.


Importantly, no quarter should be given to those who fan hatred among people and communities. 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.  One is free not accepting the view of others, it is a matter of perception, a statement objectionable to a person might be normal to another.


Clearly, the speed with which our tolerance is falling to fragile levels is scary. In the ultimate our leaders must realize a nation is primarily a fusion of minds and hearts and secondarily a geographical entity. India is a big country with enough room for all to live in peace and goodwill.


If our leaders don’t step back from this abyss, the country will begin to resemble the dictatorships where people speak in coded language, where real thoughts go underground.


All in all criticism is a sign of a thriving and robust democracy. The aim should be to raise the bar on public discourse, not lower it any more than has been done. India could do without netas and their chamchas who distort politics and in turn destroy democracy. Pay heed before it’s too late. ---INFA


(Copyright, India News and Feature Alliance)


11 June 2014



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