We have reached a juncture where multiple ways of thinking are perceived with hostility and there are vehement demands for bans. It’s becoming a fashion to oppose anything from a speech delivered to screening a movie, from painting to books. To rewind: Christians wanted the movie “The Da Vinci Code” banned, as some portions were hurtful; Sikhs were offended by the title of a movie. Recall the American author James Laine who wrote a biography on Shivaji which contained unpleasant remarks about the Maratha warrior, ultimately quashed by the Supreme Court (SC).
Noted artist M F Hussain was forced to spend the last few years of his life in exile as Hindutva groups strongly opposed his depiction of Hindu Gods. Dr MM Kalburgi (78), renowned Kannada writer, research scholar and rationalist entered the history books as the first litterateur from Karnataka was most recently shot dead allegedly for his views on idol worship and Hindu rituals.
Exhibition of movies is embraced in the fundamental right of freedom of expression guaranteed by the Constitution. A Maniratnam movie“Kadal” came under fire due to Christian ire that it “hurt” the feelings of the community. Regarding the banning of the movie ”Viswaroopam” by the Tamil Nadu government, Kamal Haasan, actor-producer, sadly, surrendered, as his lifetime savings was at stake. But, the surrender gives impetus to many similar groups to launch their own tirade on the right of expression.
Actor Khushboo faced criminal prosecutions for her remarks on premarital sex. The SC, of course, quashed the proceedings on the ground that “under our constitutional scheme different views are allowed to be expressed by the proponents and opponents….. An expression of opinion in favour of non-dogmatic view must be tolerated and it cannot merit to penalise the author”. Instances of intolerance are aplenty.
Providentially, the SC has been a gallant defender of freedom of expression. How long and how often should the apex court intervene? The main agenda of the vested interests is to create a mass hysteria, grab the media attention and the public, and indulge in vote-bank politics. Intolerance creates hate, intimidation, blackmail and violence. Tolerance is paramount to democracy.
Need of the hour is that the judging panel should comprise of people from all religions with diverse profiles who can validate an art form from all aspects. After authentication by the expert committee, the concerned government must support it and control the law and order, instead of imposing bans. While a section of narrow minded elements dictate disturbance, suppression of contrary views results in killing creativity. If someone indulges in scurrilous writing, right to pursue a legal remedy is available.
What is offensive is a matter of subjective feeling, and therefore, cannot be a reason for restricting an individual’s freedom of expression, which must be absolute. If you are offended, you have the right to respond. Social welfare has primacy over religious sentiments. That is why laws against Sati, Untouchability, Child Marriage ….. are in force. Once we give up in the name of “tolerance”, we constrain our ability to challenge those in power and therefore to challenge injustice. Free speech is unique because everyone can choose whether to read/view a book/script/movie, or not. Dissent is not only a right, it is a duty.