Tag Archives: Taslima Nasreen

Mothership

Pritish Nandy’s got it the beginning wrong while writing about bans-

India’s a great democracy, give or take a few aberrations. We have a free vote, a media that largely speaks its mind. Top politicians still get caught out for their indiscretions, so do leading businessmen. And yes, we read what we want to, watch what we choose, say what we desire without being unduly worried. But will it stay this way forever? One’s beginning to have serious doubts.

The reason’s simple. Our leaders are always looking for a quick fix, even when it compromises on our most basic freedoms, as enshrined in the Constitution.

When the constitution itself is a compromise, how can anyone compromise on anything in it? If one forgets India’s pre-English history, and takes a look at countries that have followed the English “interpretation” when it comes to rights and freedom (Canada and Australia) they are eons away from the American “interpretation” of such concepts. Thus, while the English bloc relies on “society” to decide what is permissible and not, the US has its First Amendment. Its the idea that matters. And the English idea sucks.


Dasgupta swallows Mukherjee’s most important line when he writes this-

On November 28, 2007, Pranab Mukherjee had assured the Lok Sabha that “India has never refused shelter to those who had come and sought our protection…This civilizational heritage, which is now the government’s policy, will continue, and India will provide shelter to Ms Nasreen.”

Mukherjee is a politician. And here’s the relevant part of the statement

Throughout history, India has never refused shelter to those who have come and sought our protection. This civilizational heritage, which is now government policy, will continue, and India will provide shelter to Ms. Nasreen. Those who have been granted shelter here have always undertaken to eschew political activities in India or any actions which may harm India’s relations with friendly countries. It is also expected that the guests will refrain from activities and expressions that may hurt the sentiments of our people.

I know this because I’ve written about it previously

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.

An “assurance” it was not.

Religious cretins

Churumuri links to an article in the Telegraph by Swapan Dasgupta

Earlier this week, a newspaper in Delhi published a telling cartoon that drew many a snigger: a figure fully veiled in black with the simple caption: “Qatar Mata by M.F. Husain”.

The apparent absurdity of India’s most famous artist relinquishing his Indian nationality for the citizenship of Qatar, a place where he claims “no one controls my freedom of expression”, has disappointed many of his ardent supporters who had faithfully backed him against militant and litigious groups. In turning his back on “my motherland” because “India doesn’t need me” and “no one came forward to speak for me”, Husain has handed out an unqualified victory to those who feel that free speech and expression cannot include the right to offend.

[…]

In the past decade, the threshold of tolerance in India has been lowered considerably — thanks in no small degree to the takeover of the internet by competitive extremists. ‘Sensitivity to faith’ has come to mean accommodation of organized blackmail.

The successful anti-Husain and anti-Taslima protests have to be seen in the context of a progressive shrinking of the enlightened public space. India imagined it would be a world player on the strength of its ‘soft power’. Today, that power is being steadily undermined by the clash of rival ghettos. The nonsense has gone on far too long and has touched dangerous heights. It’s time the country extends democratic rights to those who offend fragile sensitivities.

Nice. But the same person, in the same article, writes this – “In theory, there is nothing hideously objectionable to citizen’s rights being qualified by the realities of India.”

As for Husain, I heard the clueless fellow on television, saying the words Dasgupta attributes to him – “no one controls my freedom of expression [in Qatar].” I guess the operative word here is “my.” If only Qatar had offered asylum to Nasreen and Rushdie…

What ambivalence? What freedom?

I don’t know why the Times of India thinks that the Indian government has an “ambivalent stand on freedom of speech and expression”

Those who violently target artists or writers for their works have no place in a democracy. They must be arrested and punished. But what is more disturbing is the government’s ambivalent stand on freedom of speech and expression. If the government cannot ensure that Husain or Nasreen have the freedom to express themselves or even live in India, then it ends up undermining some of the basic tenets of our Constitution.

The government is in fact following the Indian constitution to the letter. Article 19 of the constitution does not guarantee freedom of speech and expression because it allows the State to place “reasonable restrictions on the exercise of the right” in so many different ways that in practice the “right to free speech and expression” means people only have the permission to say and express those ideas that either have the support of the majority or that of the government. Just because the government does not act to curb the “right” does not mean that it does not have the power to do so.

The mob that ransacked the current exhibition of Husain’s prints are probably guilty of rioting (IPC S146) and can be punished with a prison “term which may extend to two years, or with fine, or with both” (IPC S147). But Husain (or any other Indian citizen who takes his freedom of speech and expression for granted) can be charged under IPC S295A for insulting or attempting “to insult the religion or the religious beliefs” of a particular religious class or under IPC S292 that deals with the sale and public exhibition of material that is considered obscene. This section curiously has an exemption for –

Any representation sculptured, engraved, painted or otherwise represented on or in-
(i) Any ancient monument within the meaning or the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958 (24 of 1958), or
(ii) Any temple, or on any car used for the conveyance of idols, or kept or used for any religious purpose.

Since the mobs represent the “silent majority” in the case of the Hindu Right, and the “vocal minority” in the case of the “Muslim radicals”, they will probably never be arrested – the cops will look the other way. But writers and artists and average citizens will find that not only does the law fail to protect them and their property from violent lunatics, but they themselves will be targeted under different sections of the Indian Penal Code.

In present day India, the best way to preserve your “right to free speech and expression” is to never use it. You can never tell when someone takes offense to something you say or do, and lets the law loose on you.

Buddha aur Ram

My grandmother is 75. And she likes her gods. She did not like it one bit when Jayalalitha got the Shankaracharya arrested in the winter of 2004. Would they dare to do such a thing with the Pope or some Muslim holy man, she asked? And when Karunanidhi questioned Ram’s engineering abilities, that did not make her happy either. Just before someone complains, I have to say that she is not some Hindu ‘fundamentalist’. She is like most Indians, reasonably religious and interested in politics. She sees the Tehelka expose on tv and asks whether Modi is really involved; a rhetorical question; she knows just as well as everybody else what happened. After all, she does get her news from the same television channels and (tamil) magazines. I wonder what she would say if she heard that the West Bengal Chief Minister has reignited the Ram – Real or Fake debate (does he not have enough on his plate already?).

Buddhadeb has said that Ram is a fictional figure. I agree wholeheartedly. And I would have agreed more with him (or Karunanidhi, for that matter) if he had said similar things about Prophet Muhammed’s conversations with Allah during the Taslima Nasreen issue. Why is freedom of expression and feelings of Hindus any less important than the Sethusamudram project and the feelings of Muslims? There is no reason other than the fact that he and most Indian politicians are deeply pseudo-secular and indulge in doublespeak. I would have put freedom of expression miles above any possible benefit derived from the project any day because it is an extremely valuable and scarce commodity now-a-days. But that cannot be done as Muslim fundamentalists have shown time and again. While any sleight of Hindu gods or symbols might make the VHP or any of the numerous hindu fundamentalist groups carry out protests and bandhs for a couple of days, burn a few buses and kill a few people, a sleight of an Islamic symbol might trigger a worldwide protest and might even result in a fatwa by some cleric who has nothing else to do.

The BJP and everyone else who taunt pseudo-secularists should consider this fact and forgive Buddha, other politicians and that part of the intelligentsia which is pseudo-secularist. After all they are so because they are shit scared of the wrath of Islam and Islamic fundamentalists. But that is not going to happen, is it now? So, Buddha should watch out the next time he indulges in doublespeak. On the other hand, let Buddha say what he wants. My grandmother is not going to stop believing in Ram because Buddha said so. And I am not going to start believing in him because Buddha said so.

This incident is so funny that it makes a great joke – Buddha says Ram is fictional. I just hope buddhists don’t take offence.

A mirage called freedom

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):

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.