The civilised world likes democracy. And it likes freedom. And India would like to think that it is civilised, democratic and free. Unfortunately, these words don’t mean anything unless put in context. And when you do that, the words sound hollow.
Taslima Nasreen has accepted defeat. The Government of India (through Minister for External Affairs Pranab Mukherjee) issued a veiled warning to her – India has never turned back people who have sought shelter with it. And in return, these ‘guests’ have always taken care not to hurt the sentiments of the people or India’s relations with other countries. Not his exact words, but this is more or less what he has said. One can only feel sorry for Nasreen. She has been hounded, and attacked, and pushed into a corner. She could either withdraw the ‘controversial’ passages or find a new place to live. She chose the path of self-preservation. After all, what does one do with freedom of speech if one is dead? To be fair to the government, it did not have any alternative. The way politics works in India, any support to Taslima would have been used as a stick to beat it during the next elections. The Muslim vote is a prize commodity and the prophet is off-limits to anyone and everyone. Even if it were not for the politics, there is always the possibility of losing face if something happened to her.
Well, Nasreen is just one of the victims of India’s ‘hurt sentiments’. The people of a country with a 5000+ year history surely carry a lot of hurt sentiments with them. It seems that time does not heal wounds and neither does it provide wisdom. People find it convenient to use the stick to achieve obedience, and governments and the law find it inconvenient (or impossible) to provide protection to the victim. The ‘saffron groups’ (BJP, RSS, VHP, Shiv Sena, and whichever one will crop up before I finish writing this post) have appointed themselves defenders of Hinduism. Every book, film, play, painting and artistic expression has to pass through their moral and cultural filter before the public can access it. Court decisions are irrelevant because even if a court lifts official bans (ones applied by governments to further their own political motives), these organisations can always enforce an extralegal ban of their own, which people can ignore at their own peril.
I would so like to say that this problem is limited to one community rather than say that everybody is involved (and appear wishy-washy in the process). But, unfortunately, that is the truth. Dissenting ideas are unwelcome and dissent is treated as an attack on their thought processes or symbols.
To any artist (Indian or non-Indian) working in any field and planning to do absolutely anything India-related or in India, the following guidelines may save you a lot of trouble (and possibly your life):
Never raise any questions on or make unflattering remarks about or show any of the following in bad light -
- Bharat Mata, Jesus Christ, Prophet Muhammed, Lord Ram, Lord Krishna, any Hindu gods and goddesses, any gods of any other religion practised by more than ten people, any religious symbols.
- Mahatma Gandhi, Chhatrapati Shivaji, Babasaheb Ambedkar, Periyar Ramasawamy, any other major or minor king or political leader – past or present.
- Women of the country.
- Any particular caste or community.
- Never draw or write or photograph or capture on film, anything that might even remotely be termed as lascivious or prurient or anything that might not appeal to peoples sensitivities.
- Never do anything that might trigger violence between communities and castes.
Salman Rushdie, M.F.Hussain, James Laine, Taslima Nasreen, Deepa Mehta, Khushboo and scores of others have borne the brunt of India’s hurt sensibilities. Not only them, anyone seen to be supporting them in their ‘misdeeds’ are targeted as well – publishers, book stores, theatres, libraries etc. etc. We don’t need to add more victims to that huge list.
However, if you do follow the above guidelines and create a great piece of art, you and your art are more than welcome in India. We would not dream of censoring such art. Censorship does not happen in India. After all, India is civilised, democratic and free.