As an Indian who has a capacity to feel infuriated, the last few months have been busy. This week’s cause is illegal ban on Vishwaroopam. Kamal Haasan gave an emotional press conference earlier today, in effect saying that he is being forced to seek a more secular state or country where he can pursue his art.
Watch it here.
I agree with Salman Rushdie when he says there is a cultural emergency in India. For that reason alone, I hope Kamal Haasan feels compelled to emigrate. M.F. Hussain had to do the same a few years ago. However, the nature of his work was controversial enough that not many people realized we were already in a cultural emergency. Vishwaroopam can be a simpler reminder that even something non-controversial (Edit: Vishwaroopam depicts Al-Qaeda terrorists in Afghanistan. That’s all it does.) can offend those who seek offense. It is bad enough that they believe they have an ability—and a right—to indulge their offenses; it is so much worse that those in the government heed to their tantrums and pass illegal bans.
The petitioners’ main concern with the movie was that there was “a danger that the public may view any Muslim with a beard as a terrorist.” Way to dodge that bullet, for the main petitioner, Mohammed Hanifa, has a beard, is a Muslim and I’m sorry to say is a cultural terrorist. One might even argue that within a reasonable definition of terrorism, we could do away with the cultural adjective.
Still, offense takers are only half the problem. The government ought to take a larger blame because it is their duty to uphold the law.
Freedom of speech isn’t a high priority for an average person. So governments face no repercussions for appeasing fundamentalists. Who is going to not vote for a candidate because their party didn’t uphold the freedom of speech or expression? In fact, most of us continue to believe that freedom of speech only exists up to the point where we hurt someone’s sentiments. (And rightly so, because that’s what the constitution says anyway.)
There are a number of incidents and news articles every day that can make one despair about the state of the world. I don’t recommend despairing for every terrible thing one comes across. I now have an implicit rule before I despair. I despair when we regress. (Everything else, while terrible, is some path to progress and provides hope for a better future.)
We have without a doubt regressed as a society.
That is the reason I’m infuriated and in despair.
The first question to Kamal Haasan after his statement was by a journalist, “So are you disowning Tamil Nadu?” It was clearly a journalist looking for a tasty sound bite. Perhaps I haven’t been following the Indian media close enough to know what the new normal is, but I found it distasteful.