Friday, August 10, 2007

India Curbs Freedom of Expression I

Vadodara Incident

An Indian Arts student was attacked and arrested in Vadodara because he was deemed guilty of displaying 'obscene' art at an exhibition held at the university's annual exhibition. The local BJP and VHP leaders were involved and they condemned the art works claiming it 'hurt the religious sentiments of the people'. The faculty of the art department decried the 'moral policing' and pointed out that 'the works were not meant for public display and were for internal assessment.' [Link 1, Link 2]

Suppression of Expressions

It's not very hard to see why I keep protesting against all dogmatic and convenient interpretations of Hinduism. I fear that these so-called 'correct interpretations' of sacred and religious texts and these so-called upholders of faith who tout 'Bharat Sanskruti' to defend every act of suppression of freedom are going to affect individual spirit, creativity and expression in this country. I see a great danger here because there is no limit to what constitutes 'hurting of religious sentiments' and it is vaguely and loosely defined. Once we set precedents for that, we pave the way for allowing every work of art, every book that criticizes, every music that exhorts people to be deemed guilty of 'hurting religious or people's sentiments'.

Artistic freedoms will be curbed, critics of government or its actions will be jailed, and detractors will be attacked. We will welcome in this country the very rules that are distasteful usually imposed in some autocratic nations. In our eagerness to combat an enemy, we will become exactly one of them. We will be veering this nation away from pluralistic and democratic nation to conformist and authoritarian regimes. I see the current actions as protests of stifling creativity, celebrating ignorance and blind belief, curbing individual's freedom of expression, and eventually leading to loss of universal values, as we know it.

I do not welcome any of these attempts by the brand ambassadors of Hinduism. I do not welcome attempts that position Vedas as Sciences, because I can clearly see the hidden agendas that are dangerous - instead of inculcating reason they introduce mysticism. I do not welcome these biased attempts to dig the past to uncover and unravel the glorious histories of Hindu India, because I see these attempts of restoration nothing more than advocating supremacy of one group of people over the other.

We didn't know if Miss Universe contest was against the tenets of Bharat Sanskruti and that our glorious past and grand texts were opposed to such events till we saw protests against that contest here in India, coming from leftists, feminists and religious bigots, joining hands to defend a Bharat Naari's Abhimaan.

We didn't know if painting nudes, painting goddesses nude was against Hinduism till we saw the protests from all sections of Indians joining hands to protest against M.F. Husain's paintings. The situation got so worse that his house was ransacked; a PIL was filed against him; and he is now living in a foreign country as exile. We have joined the 'elite' bunch of countries, like Myanmar, Iraq, Iran and other authoritarian countries that produce exiles based on publishing or producing works of art.

How come we had Kama Sutra, how come our temples are adorned with fornicating men and women? How come we have such lewd and lascivious descriptions of romance between gods and goddesses, between kings and queens written in ancient language of Sanskrit? How come we had temples that offered women to 'serve' the guests, where service included sex? What version of Hinduism was that?

While this religion (Hinduism) remained vibrant because it was loosely connected, least interpreted by the so-called experts, with almost no stranglehold from priests and sadhus on the fates of mainstream societies - that character of Hinduism is changing quite rapidly, thanks to two things. First, massive information flow from one corner of India to another connecting every Indian where sympathies, for protection of a religion, can be garnered from millions of elite Hindu; second, a concerted, aggressive and emboldened effort by the so-called upholders of faith who get their direct support from political parties, authority, justice department, who are now hijacking Hinduism buoyed by sympathies of the elite, the literate and devotee Hindus.

These protestors who attack the Miss. Universe contest, those who protest against M.F. Husain's paintings and now the erotic paintings from a student, are all riding the wave of silent sympathy from Indian elite who defend these protests as 'public reaction to a flagrant hurting of public and religious sentiments'. These defenders, who comprise elite of India - professors, academia, scientists, doctors, engineers, businessmen, silently condone these actions and sometimes revel in the fact that their objects of dislikes are being drummed down by the activists. Though they do not associate themselves with these goons and radicals (VHP/Bajrang Dal), they silently admire such isolated 'protection attacks'. They rationalize them as 'isolated outbursts of suppressed public opinion'. They condone them as 'natural reaction to perversion versions of our sacred religion'.

Freedoms come with Responsibilities

There is always a downside to freedom of expression. It comes with the ability to handle criticism, insults, and ridicules with maturity. It comes with an ability to allow individual creativity, even if it means we all disagree to the products of that creativity. It comes with an ability to allow one to berate, vent their anger, speak against the pillars of authority - government, religion, justice department, state, institutions, etc.

Modern states in the world that have espoused the universal values of freedom somewhat reflect what Voltaire said: I disapprove of what you say; but I will defend your right to say it.

We in India got our freedoms before we could muster that maturity to handle certain downsides of freedom of expression. While we are ready to disapprove of what others say, in our overzealous obsession to curb it, we trample on their right to say it, not knowing we are paving the way for authoritarian society where we will end up losing all our freedoms.

I see dangerous trends coming from different parts of India. As a first step, only selected few will be targeted - those who criticize, enjoy artistic freedoms, call spade a spade, will be attacked for their liberal views, for their expressions of art, and for their individuality. But once that is done, they will come back for the rest of us.

The goons and activists are entering the political body of India while their silent sympathizers provide the necessary support. These little demons that we are nurturing and abetting now will come back to haunt us as evil giants, who will take away all our enshrined freedoms which come so dear to us. When they do come back as grown up usurpers of freedoms, they will affect our mainstream life affecting each of us, including the silent sympathizers, not just that single artist who painted erotic art.

1 comment:

  1. There is always a downside to freedom of expression. It comes with the ability to handle criticism, insults, and ridicules with maturity.

    Great Line, Sujai.


Dear Commenters:
Please identify yourself. At least use a pseudonym. Otherwise there will be too many *Anonymous*; making it confusing.

Do NOT write personal information or whereabouts about the author or other commenters. You are free to write about yourself. Please do not use abusive language. Do not indulge in personal attacks and insults.

Write comments which are relevant and make sense so that the debate remains healthy.