By Rhea Kumar:
I glare at you from the front page of the newspaper. I am the guiding principle that most of the world lives by today, be it the political bigwigs or the common man on the street. Art, music, literature and social media; nothing can escape my pervasive grip. Though you cannot see me, I am omnipresent and omnipotent. I am truly the king of all kings.
I am Censorship. Also called Intolerance. Fundamentalism. Tyranny of Thought. Many names for a simple idea!
Let me tell you a bit about myself. I hold my temper on a very short fuse, and if you mess with me, you are liable to face serious consequences. Don’t believe me? Do you remember how Salman Rushdie provoked me when he decided to write ‘The Satanic Verses’ in the 1980s? Now, the once popular and respected Salman Rushdie cannot even enter his motherland for a Literature Festival. And do not forget the bomb blasts that happened in bookstores across the Middle East following his book launch. Or jog your memory and think back to November 2012 when two young girls in Palghar were arrested after they posted their views on the grand funeral processions for Bal Thackeray in Maharashtra. They felt brave and courageous when they wrote on Facebook but the bravado melted away quickly when I reared my lovely head. Ultimately, they bowed down to me by making a public apology.
By challenging me, people have not only lost face in public but also all that they hold near and dear to them. One of my greatest adversaries, M.F. Hussain, could not fulfill his dying wish of returning to India, his homeland. He was forced to live as a refugee in foreign lands for years and years even as his paintings were vandalized at exhibitions by fundamentalists who believed these were offensive to Hindu goddesses. Yes, some Hindu temples and the world famous sculptures at Khajuraho are replete with nude figurines, but when a Muslim artist’s work is in question, the issue acquires a completely different hue! Why worry about being consistent and logical? Besides, this particular issue was just too hard to resist. I got more than a hotshot politician to do my bidding; I got almost the entire conservative Hindu community to rally behind me.
You may still think you can battle me by citing Article 19 of the Indian Constitution, which guarantees every citizen of the country Freedom of Speech and Expression. You poor, innocent, thing! Do you really think mere good intentions and words on paper can defeat a pervasive force like me? That a few misguided people with liberal views can displace me from the prime position I occupy in the hearts of many others? No, let me tell you, my power is greater than you think. I have minions across the world who worship me as their ideal and live by the philosophy that I hold so dear: “I am always right and I know best. Those who feel or think differently are in the wrong and it is my solemn duty to make them conform to my view, whether by persuasion, threat or violence. Heads of state, politicians, administrators, art critics, religious heads, they are all my slaves. Ayatollah Khomeini, the Shiv Sena, the Taliban and our very own Mamata Banerjee, that crafty woman who holds the country and West Bengal to ransom, even she bows down to me in subjugation. For Freedom and I, We are two lions litter’d in one day, and I the elder and more terrible!”
But chasing down my enemies is just a part of my job. I enjoy a celebrity status of sorts in today’s society. Tell me one other person or issue which has been theÂ centerÂ of so much debate and discussion? Never mind the burning issues that plague the world! They can wait. Yes, Kashmiri separatists go and talk openly with Pakistani terrorists, but it is cartoonist Aseem Trivedi who must be arrested on charges of sedition. Rapists escape arrest by virtue of being juvenile; after all, nude paintings of goddesses cause rape, not flawed mindsets! And the Class XI NCERT Political Science textbook, which has not seen a revision of content in a decade, is now being revised expeditiously by the Thorat Committee because its cartoons supposedly contain anti-Dalit content. Really, can you think of anything else that so systematically destroys coherent thought and action, yet has staunch and vociferous support from prominent and powerful people?
If I have managed to arouse in you a deep-seated fear of enlightened liberal thought, then I have accomplished my mission. As long as society remains fearful and oppressed, nothing and nobody can threaten my status. But don’t worry too much, Status Quo and stagnation are my best friends, so as long as you don’t disturb them, you’ll be safe. So, chup karo, khush raho!