“Freedom ain’t just another word”
So, even the US government hauled in the dolt who made the obnoxious film for ‘questioning’
PADMA RAO SUNDARJI
So, for all its “freedoms of expression and speech”, the reasons given by Hillary Clinton after the tragic killing of their ambassador in Libya to explain why the US could not ban the film, American law-makers were obviously stunned enough by the outrage it unleashed to try and do something about it.
“Personal liberty” has been the buzzword over the past weeks even in India. Activists have flown the flag of ‘artistic freedom’ over a range of issues.
Ironically, the most mature, tolerant and sensible reaction to the American film came from the oldest occupant of the hard-line niche of India’s only Muslim-majority state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The rest of the country, not unsurprisingly as I will show below, largely said and did: nothing.
Whether Valleywallahs reciprocate with joy in the odd, heartening report from the rest of India and whether the “agencies” that loom large over J&K think I am whacko or not: I felt a renewed sense of pride in Kashmir earlier this week, when I read of Mr. S A S Geelani’s criticism of Mufti Bashir-ud-Din Ahmed, when the latter ordered Americans out of the Valley on the heels of this film.
This, despite the fact that Geelani Sahib’s own ‘house-arrest’ saga is intensified by New Delhi with robot-like regularity, each time some idiot somewhere in the world offends Islam.
Whether his statement was merely a crafty riposte in an ongoing war for supremacy between the Grand Mufti and him, I will leave to expert –and cynical Valley-watchers to decide.
In the rest of India, romanticized platitudes of ‘freedom of expression and speech’ have marked public debate over many issues during these past weeks. Each time, they have been riddled with confusion, an obfuscation of facts and - worst of all, double standards.
-Mostly young, pseudo-intellectual jhola-carrying brand ambassadors of Fab India and Dastkar (both of which I wear, but not as political statements);
-Champions of human liberties armed with impressive degrees from the best universities in Britain and the United States;
-Supporters of unbridled ‘freedom of expression’ in India, many among them – FYI to GK readers - young, urban professional Kashmiris and vociferous pro-Azadi-wallahs, even though they enjoy, as indeed they should, every available benefit of India’s big cities - but that’s another story.
Debates on all kinds of personal freedom, have been ringing in our ears. The flag of liberty flew especially high for the following:
- “Jal Satyagraha”, or protests fought with a newfound weapon : “threat to oneself,” as journalist Malavika Sangghvi in an excellent comment pointed out recently. According to a Times of India report (and I can confirm this from my own experience of covering protests for over 2 decades), some irresponsible activists got the poor villagers of Khandwa (ostensibly protesting rising water levels of the Omkareshwar dam in Madhya Pradesh but more likely and rightfully for adequate compensation to be awarded to them), to scramble into shoulder-deep water – a distance away from their actual hamlets on dry ground - each time TV crews appeared.
- Over-wrought residents of Koodangulam in Tamil Nadu, who like millions across India, have suffered power-cuts all their lives. For months, armchair nuclear energy experts had fed them not entirely accurate information. After the ‘success’ of the Khandwa campaign, they, too, were urged to jump into the sea or bury themselves neck-deep in hot sand the minute cameras arrived, to protest the re-commissioning of the nuclear power plant in the town.
- Offensive drawings by a mediocre cartoonist, Aseem Trivedi, of a map of India as a woman about to be raped and the parliament house, which our forefathers – Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim together struggled to get the Brits to vacate – as a toilet bowl.
- The anniversary of the ‘fatwa’ for the frivolous and indeed rather boring ‘Satanic Verses’ by Salman Rushdie, one of my favourite authors. (His novel based on Kashmir – and for me, one of his best, Shalimar The Clown, came and went unnoticed).
Don’t mistake me. NGOs and human rights groups are essential watchdogs in a country riddled with corruption and inequality at all levels. Thank God we have them.
When MF Husain, arguably one of the greatest artistes this country has produced, depicted Hindu goddesses in the nude – as artisans have done for thousands of years, the flag-bearers of freedom had done a great job.
Right-wing goons destroyed Husain’s works and ‘banned’ him from returning to his country ( with a surprising paralysis among our polity backing them). But Husain’s supporters had rightfully pointed out, that the ridiculous objection was only raised because the artist was a Muslim.
But they don’t always get it right.
Over the past weeks, I have argued with my liberty-loving friends about the ridiculous proportions their campaigns have started taking. Each time, I have been met with hysterical, angry and illogical condemnation.
I have stated that :
-Different folks must have different strokes. India’s religious and cultural kaleidoscope – its greatest treasure – and its colonial history mean that it cannot possibly have a carbon-copy version of anyone else’s democracy. Indeed, as the ‘questioning’ by US authorities of the American idiot who made the film indicates, even that immigrant-rich superpower is realistic enough to take a closer look at the unfettered freedom that its constitution promises its citizens.
-Staged protests and telling half-truths to the media and more importantly to those affected, must end, if we are to retain a shred of faith in at least the country’s highest judicial instance, its Supreme Court (which has cleared both the Narmada dams and the Koodangulam nuclear power plant, while ordering both state governments to ensure more-than-fair compensation to those displaced or affected)
-Though the charge of ‘sedition’ against Aseem Trivedi for his revolting cartoons may have been ridiculous, a complete absence of laws to curtail blasphemy and obscenity would mean total chaos.
Freedom of speech and expression’, my liberal friends insisted, cannot be selective. If India arrests anyone who ‘creates’ whatever comes to his mind – no matter how offensive to others- then India is a banana republic. And anyone offended by the cartoons like I am, is a stuffy conservative and - inexplicably and stupidly -an intolerant right-winger.
Then something happened. Just after the kicking and screaming cartoonist was released, the film ridiculing the Prophet and the tragic killing of the US ambassador made headlines.
I immediately searched for my activist-friends.
Where were they? Those who had denounced me and defended the cartoonist’s ‘rights’ to ‘freedom of expression’? Those who had insisted that small ‘half-truths’ at the venues of protests were okay, as long as they conveyed a “powerful” message?
Why had their Facebook walls and Tweets fallen silent? Where were their fierce and voluble campaigns to uphold freedom?
As protests spread and American and European institutions were unfairly attacked, why had the hemorrhaging hearts of democratic India, home to Koodangulam and Khandwa, but also to the world’s second largest Muslim population, suddenly stopped bleeding either in defence of ‘artistic freedom’ ?
I ferreted them down. Privately, they told me that the anti-Prophet film, no matter how tasteless, should not and cannot be banned.
That they were not taking it up in public because it is a ‘non-issue’, a film made by an Egyptian Coptic” that had nothing to do with India.
What difference does the religion of this dubious ‘artiste’, whether Christian, Muslim or Jew make? Isn’t that the same argument they –correctly - used to defend MF Husain?
They also tried to justify their reticence by pointing that it is a film made in America, not here.
So what? In this world of a very viral Internet, is there anything that is not thrust into everyone’s face, whether we want it or not?
When I had pointed that Aseem Trivedi’s cartoons offended me because they appeared in public spaces like the dailies and the Internet, my liberal friends had slammed me.
Illogically, they had insisted that if I disliked the cartoons so much, I had, yes, the freedom (not to protest, oh no, that was their prerogative) to “not look at them” or switch off my computer.
In that case, why were they not protesting Google’s action of quietly and sensibly removing the offensive film from YouTube in India? Why not demand, in the name of ‘freedom of choice and expression’, that Indian viewers get to see it too?
Of course there is an answer for their off-the-record mumbles: because they know perfectly well that the realities of India are different.
To defend this film in public would mean risking the wrath of irate opponents and possibly attract violence towards their own persons. It would also mean a public shredding of all their earlier arguments.
To all of you of the good intentions but warped logic especially to the young, bright and most beautiful of India, I say, wake up and smell the kehwa.
“Young’ is good, ‘young’ is the future, ‘young’ is energy. But in today’s developing India, ‘young’ without guidance, can also be illogical and dangerous.
None of you Hotspurs were born just a decade after the euphoria of freedom from the British.
None of you know what it took to give you the freedom you enjoy today.
We all hate the guts of our greedy and corrupt polity who must, undoubtedly be exposed and voted out again and again by democratic means.
But there are millions of us – of no matter which religion- who are enraged to see India as a woman about to be assaulted, the parliament house as a bathroom and a film insult any faith, especially one practiced in this country.
Yes, we are the largest democracy in the world. But to be the greatest one, we must have our own, unique freedom, not Xeroxed copies of the pages of US or British textbooks you read at university in other countries.
Yes, we must urgently amend silly, ancient British laws like sedition. (A favorite and flimsy tool especially in J&K).
But we need blueprints, instructions, guidance. Things still have to be Halal, Kosher, or Satvik. Anarchic is no known category.
Otherwise, why don’t we just abolish every institution our forefathers fought in peace and silence for, and go back to dangling from trees ?
(The author is a senior freelance foreign correspondent based in New Delhi)
Lastupdate on : Thu, 20 Sep 2012 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Thu, 20 Sep 2012 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Fri, 21 Sep 2012 00:00:00 IST
- MORE FROM GK MAGAZINE
‘Valley Has Produced Great Journalists Despite Turmoil’
Islamabad (Anantnag), Sep 20: Appreciating the role of media in Kashmir, senior National Conference leader and Member Parliament Dr. Mehboob Beg Thursday said the valley has produced quality journalists More
- Srinagar City
Amid concern on Facebook nobody comes forward on ground to take this infant
SYED IMRAN ALI HAMDANI
Srinagar, Sep 20: Unclaimed Baby. These two words have been the identity of this newborn girl as she cries in a cradle at Kashmir’s sole children hospital at Sonawar since the day she was abandoned there More
Jammu, Sep 20:- Principal Sessions Judge Jammu Jang Bhadur Singh Jamwal today issued bailable warrants against Congress leader and former minister Abdul Gani Vakil, in a complaint filed by the state government More
- South Asia
PRESS TRUST OF INDIA
Islamabad, Sep 20: Pakistan's Supreme Court today disqualified Rehman Malik along with 11 other lawmakers for violating the Constitution by holding dual nationality, saying the Interior Minister cannot More
PRESS TRUST OF INDIA
Washington, Sep 20: As a wave of anti-US protest raged in Pakistan, America today asked its citizens to defer all non-essential travel to that country. Replacing the August 27 travel warning that More