Sunday, August 12, 2007

beyond absurd but who's laughing?

By now everyone knows that instead of cases being booked against the MIM in Hyderabad for issuing what could be construed as death threats, the police have instead booked a case against Taslima Nasreen under Section 153 (A) for 'promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, language etc'.

If I am not mistaken, this is the same Section under which a case against Chandramohan was booked.

I'd like to laugh it off like I did last time. I'd like to say, the thing to do is for everyone to go out a buy or borrow a copy of Shodh and read it. I'd like to believe this will shame the MIM and every element of every lunatic fringe into silence.

But of course we all know this a special kind of blindness, one born of the confidence that if one only acts, things will fall into place and the world will right itself again. It is analogous to the egregiousness of a Rang De Basanti (about which more in a couple of days) where a bunch of ill-informed layabouts believe they have only to commit murder and fess up for the light of revolution to be lit and for a tranformation to occur in the country.

Yeah, right.

Are we deluding ourselves into believing that the MIM and the 20 crore Muslims they claim to speak on behalf of has actually read even one book by Nasreen in its entirety, and been offended by it? Do we really believe that reading the books they claim cause offense is the answer to the intimidation they practice?

The MIM don't case about the books Nasreen writes. The Hindu Right doesn't care how Chandramohan depicts gods. Most of them won't recognise art if it came and sat on their faces.

They protest and fling furniture about because it suits their purpose to create a climate of fear. A climate where people like me will not tell everyone about a screening of Janshn-e-Azadi because we did not have a strategy in place to deal with the cops when they arrive. They do what they do because they know how willing the State is to side with them in supressing anything remotely controversial.

In all seriousness, I don't know what the answer is. I know it is nice to say things like 'not silence but more speech' or to believe that one has only to speak up every single time these things happen and all will eventually be well, but I don't feel so certain about that any more.

This is not to say that we shouldn't speak up; of course we must. But we also have to be aware that by the time the occasion comes for us to speak up, the event is usually past. We only react; we never find a way to allow ourselves the space where a Nasreen can release her book without mishap or where a film can be screened without being confiscated.

The whole country has protested the attack on Nasreen, including the newly elected Vice President of India. And yet the cops have registered a case against her (after, mind you, having treated her to lunch) while Owaisi and the other MLAs can be almost certain of getting away with their attacks and death threats.

What is clear is that we can no longer take for granted a space where one can speak as one likes. We know that these freedoms may exist in theory, but that in practice, they have been eroded to a point where they can be denied us even in theory. This is dangerous. And we are complacent because we are naive about how we imagine we can counter this.


??! said...

counter-attacks and the problem of subsuming the other's characteristics. 'tis a dilemma.

Space Bar said...

ya. but more than a dilemma, no?

Chandrahas said...

Space Bar - There are some excellent thoughts here. I must say your views have really improved my understanding of the free-speech debate in India.

Space Bar said...

hash: i shall assume you're not taking the mickey. :D