Thursday, 24 January 2013

Wish-a-Roopam:

The Tamil film "Viswaroopam" by Kamal Hassan has been banned in Tamil Nadu on the grounds that it hurts sentiments and therefore poses as a law and order threat. To begin with, it is a culture that defines its citizens and literature. In one of the oldest civilizations prevalent, we are seeing a rising culture of intolerance. As sociologist Ashis Nandy recently told a television journalist that we are today less willing to debate about clash of ideas and are only interested in platitudes which is a pity.

Today, across the spectrum, artistic freedom is under assault.  To illustrate this point further, consider these examples: a film's title is changed because it has "Barber" suffixed to its title which offends the community of barbers. Can it get more ridiculous than this? Meanwhile, there is a song from a Hindi movie in which an entire line is beeped out as it offends a community despite the fact that it quotes a Hindi proverb. The unfair treatment meted out to Viswaroopam is disturbing considering that it is the second film worldwide to use the Auro 3D technology and the first Indian film to do so, therefore setting a new record. However, I am strongly of the belief that no one has the right to prevent a public screening of a film once it is cleared by the Central Board of Film Certification (CBFC). 

At this juncture, it becomes necessary for us to pause and introspect at the idea of having multiple central boards for certification of films. The fundamental process of any creative process is the freedom to dissent. Artists must be allowed to show their films or write the books they wish to write in order to unleash their creativity. Having said that, it is also equally important that artists have to be heroes of society and we must encourage ourselves to be tolerant towards the intolerant as well. 

Artistic freedom has to be protected and fought for at all times. Despite Mr. Kamal Hassan stating that he would look for citizenship in another country, it is indeed a hang-our-heads-in-shame moment as his contribution towards Indian cinema is unparalleled. Therefore, leaving the battle mid-way ahead of the film's release would send a wrong message and will lead to the fringe elements being emboldened. 

The rise of cultural terrorism and it is indeed disturbing to note that intolerance unites India just as much it divides these days. Targetting writers and filmmakers alone would not help the cause of disruption. It is important we debate on the premise that what breaches law and order would not necessarily affect society or a community as a whole. If writers and filmmakers are forced to think and censor ideas as they write, it is better that we do not ask them to write anything at all than issue disclaimers at every step. 

The craveness and vicious designs employed by our politicians time and again have at least done us the service of revealing how subjugated our constitutional right that guarantees freedom of expression is. It is only when we have debates at regular intervals and people can muster the courage to speak up against the state that we can be even worthy of the freedom of expression we seek. 

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Rest In Peace, We Won't

Pain and anguish are as much part of our lives as much as happiness and joy. Some weekends are meant for anger and pain like the weekend of December 22-23, when enraged youngsters in Delhi braved water cannons, brutal lathis and tear-gas as they protested against the horrific gang rape of a girl. Or like the weekend of December 29-30 when the nation woke up to the tragic death and mourned for her death. Repressed public anger, reliving of personal experiences of sexual harassment against women, of constantly reading about crimes against women and our sheer inability to do anything about it and the pent-up anguish eventually manifested itself through the rage that came pouring out after her death.

Yes, the youth of the country are still angry and protest marches are still being held. Surely, it is unfair to call her a rape "victim" due to her resilient fighting spirit making her a true survivor even in death. She died uniting us in death and awakening a nation's conscience. It is indeed amazing to note how the nation has almost found a voice of its own through her death.

If this is the change that Gandhi spoke about in the quote: "Be the change you wish to see", we must welcome it. The steps to achieve that change might not be huge but we will gradually get there. The assembling of youth at venues organized for protest marches speak volumes about the nation finding an unbiased voice. A voice for change with a plea of urgency. Alas, it is unfortunate that governments fail to understand or even listen to the voices. Moralistic tones to pacify the crowds do not work any longer. 

Politics, perhaps, demands to be as thick-skinned as possible. Despite our political class refusing to consider the youth as an important part of society, they have demonstrated that the voices had to be heard. This time, social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter taught us that social media could be used constructively to organize protest marches in Delhi and across the country. The impact was so high that the Prime Minister had to issue a token statement. The youth have shown that they care about public transport, safety on streets, public forums and justice for a 23 year old girl they've never met.

Over the past fortnight we have likened rapists to animals, called for chemical castration and public hangings failing to realize that she was raped by human beings, not animals. Human beings are the only animals that kill, maim and torture for pleasure. Animals attack only when threatened. 

Considering the way the media helped to shape our narrative discourse, the trial of the rapists must become a national public hearing. We should have the rapists informing the nation about the motive and how they went about raping her and inflicted unimaginable pain on her and why they thought the law could never find them. The media must play the role of converting her death from an incident of national shame to an issue national justice and dignity.