I have always been against censorship – be it in the press, films, books or anything else. I believe a mature society can decide for itself and censorship takes away not only our freedom to decide for ourselves but also our freedom to expand our imaginative and intellectual horizons, thereby restricting self-discovery. After all, how do I choose what I want if I don’t have the entire list of choices in front of me?
So, when Congress workers started protesting against ‘Indu Sarkar’, I couldn’t help but disagree. They seemed to be proving themselves equivalent to the present regime – illiberal, conservative, intellectually deprived and intolerant.
Although being a political person, I could understand their cause of anxiety – nobody would like their party leader to be shown in a negative light – I couldn’t agree with the idea of a ban on a creative enterprise. My view, however, was altered in an unexpected manner after watching the film. The film did not seem biased or motivated but only tried to recapture and visualise a period that is very much a part of our history.
The national Emergency of 1975 is undoubtedly one of the most significant historical developments that have taken place since India’s independence. It not only showed us how vulnerable our democratic structure was but also developed a new class of leaders who would go on to become the principal opposition to India’s leading party – the Indian National Congress.
An understanding of the Emergency makes us aware and grateful for our democratic rights and strengthens our belief in the necessity of upholding them. I feel the movie is well-timed because a similar Emergency-like political atmosphere is slowly and silently engulfing our country. Our rights and freedoms are under threat once more. One has to be cautious of what one eats, speaks or the company one keeps.
People are hesitant to express themselves lest they hurt the ‘sentiments’ of a particular ideological class. There is a new type of invisible censorship on the media with the ruling party having a major say in what is to be and what is not to be shown. Those not towing the line are persecuted using governmental agencies.
Syllabuses in schools and colleges are being remodelled by those who lack the credentials to do so and have assumed power only due to political patronage. Scientific temperament is being suppressed. Religious and caste identities are being strengthened. Democratic and autonomous institutions are being compromised and any type of opposition is undermined.
A particular model of nationalism (which is no different from jingoism) is being imposed which reminds anybody who has studied world history of the early days of fascist regimes. Citizens who dare to criticise or even ask questions from the government are conveniently labelled as ‘anti-national’, thus dividing society and creating a trust deficit amongst people.
What is most disturbing is the idea of a leader being bigger than the country. This is similar to what happened during the Emergency. The idea of one person becoming the living epitome of the country, somebody who is beyond questioning, criticism and accountability. Someone who must be obeyed, respected and literally worshipped in order to be considered as a ‘good citizen’ of the country.
The idea of India was bigger than the idea of ‘Indira’. And it remains bigger than the idea of ‘Modi’. Modi is not India just as Indira was not India. And that is what the movie reminds us.
Another interesting observation from the movie was the fact that most of the public remained indifferent to the Emergency, just like they appear to be indifferent now. The government’s rhetoric of ‘national interest’ was so strong that most believed it. After all, Indira was talking about ‘Garibi Hatao’. She was increasing the military might of the country. And all that she was doing, irrespective of the means, was for a noble and nationalistic objective.
Even during the heights of the Emergency, it was only a handful of people who realised the danger it posed to the existence of our democracy. While most people cheered the regular running of trains and the disciplined government machinery, few could comprehend the costs attached.
The excesses that took place did not reach the majority of the people, just like they don’t now and even when they did there was a general indifference. After all, we were and we still are a people struggling for a basic decent life. Who has the time to worry about what’s happening to others? But even in this all pervasive atmosphere of indifference, a handful of mostly young people took it upon themselves to fight the immensely powerful ruling regime and that too by the method of Satyagraha – truth and non-violence.
This second revolution for freedom too was the handiwork of a minority, albeit a determined one. Maybe I am trying to squeeze out too much inspiration from the movie and some may not find it up to the mark but the bottom line remains that the movie should be celebrated and not opposed.
For it gave much hope and a renewed sense of purpose to somebody like me who is very much ideologically bent towards those opposing the film – the grand old party, the Indian National Congress.