Thursday, January 26, 2012


Please don’t mock us

The Indian Express
Thu Jan 26 2012, 03:12 hrs

We will not be mocked. And lest the conversation migrate to a more serious keel, be sure that we will not allow it to carry on anyway if it contests the rigidity of a narrative dear to even a few of us. What else can account for the bizarre spectacle of the Indian embassy in Washington registering its reservations with an assistant secretary of state on an American talk show host’s depiction of the Golden Temple? In a recent show, Jay Leno had flashed a photograph of the Sikh shrine, saying it could be a summer home for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. And since India is waging a diplomatic war on humorists — the Leno episode comes soon after protests by the Indian mission in Britain against a BBC motoring show — we will also remain untouched by the irony of the world’s largest democracy being snubbed with lectures on fundamental democratic rights. Leno’s comments, remarked a US state department spokesperson, are “constitutionally protected in the US under free speech”.
Given the overhang of the Salman Rushdie episode, it is time to call out the plain intolerance that’s come to inhabit Indian politics and statecraft. The point is not just that sundry, though sometimes formidable, groups are quick to take offence — whether it be on a scholarly essay on the Ramayana in the Delhi University syllabus, or on Rushdie’s nth visit to India in a decade, or on stereotypes trotted out on television comedies overseas — though we should be worried as a society about the “breaking views” hysteria that exaggerates and then gives a self-fulfilling momentum to these howls of outrage, and intimidates public figures into participation. What is striking is the alacrity with which politicians and government officials heed the squeals of protest as a few raw nerves are touched. This has so completely become the state’s default position that it is not even apologetic. Once the restrictions on The Satanic Verses were qualified with the plea that they did not reflect a literary critique. Now the administration does not even bother to disguise its creeping desire to control free speech, whether by police “information” on possible trouble or by plans to intimidate websites into self-censorship — or indeed by inflating perceived discomfort over a TV show into a diplomatic incident.

The signal is clear. Protest that you have been offended and the establishment shall hear you. It will not guide the conversation towards a middle ground that recommends moderation and a considered defence of individual liberty. It will amplify your right to be offended and to seek apology. This capitulation is bred by a politics that fails to realise its potential as a modernizing force. Nothing could be sadder in a week when India celebrates the day it gave itself a constitution founded on fundamental rights.

No comments:

Post a Comment